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The Record of an Aeronaut 

yi i 

The Record of 
an Aeronaut 

Being the Life of John M. Bacon 

By his Daughter 

Gertrude Bacon 

With Photogravure Portrait and Sixty-two Illustrations 


John Long 

Norris Street, Haymarket 

First Published in 1907 



I. FAMILY HISTORY . . . .11 




VI. ALMA MATER . . . . .91 










ESCAPES . . . . .270 




XIX. THE LAST . . , . . 337 



Portrait ..... Frontispiece 


John Bacon, R.A. . . . ... 14 

The Nassau Balloon Party . . ... 72 

John M. Bacon, aged 5 . . ... 78 

Lord Francis Douglas . . . 91 

Old Court, Trinity . . . ... 98 

The Home at Coldash . . ... 125 

Rising above the Crystal Palace Grounds . . .159 

Cricket from Aloft . . . . . 159 

Bacon at the Norway Eclipse . . ... 208 

Bacon at the Indian Eclipse . . ... 208 

Bacon's first Scientific Balloon Ascent . . . .215 

Over the Town . . . ... 223 

Descent on Telegraph Wires . . ... 223 

Leaving the Crowd . . . ... 224 

Above the Suburbs . . . ... 224 

Over Kent Shadow of the Balloon on the ground . . 228 

Over Kent Swanley Junction . . ... 228 

Leaving Clifton College Grounds . ... 229 

Above Bristol . . . ... 229 

The Maplin Lighthouse . . ... 239 

Observations on the Maplin . . ... 239 

Above the Clouds . . . ... 246 

Descending in the Sea . . ... 249 

Newbury from a Balloon . . . . 251 

Balloon filling at Newbury Gasworks . . . . 263 

A mile above the Cloud-Floor . . ... 263 

Distress Messages thrown from Balloon . ... 268 

The Descent at Neath . . . . 268 

After the " Leonid " Voyage , > . . 269 

The English Eclipse Expedition at Wadesborough . . 276 


List of Illustrations 


The Yerkes Observatory . . . . . 277 

The Great Refractor, Yerkes Observatory . . 277 

Bacon and Admiral Fremantle about to ascend from Newbury 

Gasworks . . . ... 278 

Entering the Thunder-cloud . *, . . . 279 

A Calm Descent . . . . . . 284 

A Rough Descent . . . ... 284 

Sound Experiments on Norfolk Broads . . . . 292 

View, two thousand feet above Trafalgar Square . . . 293 

Dawn over the Medway . . ... 294 

Descent at Dawn . . . ... 294 

Descent near Hertford . . ... 296 

London by Night Ludgate Hill . . . 300 

Looking up the River . . . 300 

Balloon versus Cycle Race Mustering . ... 302 

Rising above Fulham . . 303 

Capturing the Despatches . . 303 

Leaving Douglas . . . . . . 318 

Derby Castle, Isle of Man . . ... 318 

First Glimpse of Scotland Sundown ., . . 3 2 

Photograph of the Sea-bottom . . . . . 320 

Maskelyne and Bacon experimenting with Burner of Hot-air 

Balloon - . . . . . 328 

The Hot-air Balloon Aloft . . . ' . . 329 

" General Jacqueminot " . . . 334 

The Fall of the "General" V . ' . 334 

Above a London Fog . . 337 

Cycle Track Crystal Palace Grounds . . * , -339 

Leaflets thrown from a Balloon . , * . 339 

The Last Voyage. Descent at Kidlington . . . 346 


IT was the intention of my father, during the last years 
of his life, to write and publish his own personal 
reminiscences of a varied and eventful career, in which 
he had met many noteworthy people, accomplished many 
things, and taken part in unusual, often perilous and 
exciting, experiences such as fall to the lot of compara- 
tively few. 

This plan he put so far into execution as to commit to 
paper the first portion of the book he contemplated, that 
which dealt, in anecdotal fashion, with his boyhood scenes 
and recollections. The present volume perforce is largely 
my own attempt perhaps an over-bold one to finish 
that which my father began. The original matter by 
his own pen is contained in Chapters II, III, and IV. 

It is no easy task to complete what another has com- 
menced, and, as in this case, to tell the tale which the hero 
himself would have unfolded. More especially is this 
the case with those events which occurred before my own 
personal recollection. For the many shortcomings thence 
arising I would beg the reader's lenient judgment. 

In relating the story of my father's brave life I have 
laid no undue stress upon his aeronautical experiences, 
by which his name is most widely known ; holding that 
a man should be judged by his whole existence, not 
merely by one portion of it, no matter how remarkable 
that may be. 



Besides recording his aerial adventures, it has also been 
my endeavour to represent him as the broad-minded, 
many-sided, lovable personality he was, and paint him 
as he appeared to those who knew him best. 

Neither have I, in this volume, enlarged on Bacon's 
strictly scientific work, or attempted any epitome or 
r6sum of the results he obtained. For such a task I 
am not competent, nor if I were is this the place for it. 

In conclusion, I would beg to tender my most grateful 
thanks to the many friends who have helped me in my 
task by the loan of letters, photographs, etc., among whom 
must be especially mentioned Mr. Stephen arding 
Terry, Mr. Thomas Webb, Mr. E. J. Forster, Dr. R. 
Lachlan, Mr. G. Dixon, and Mr. T. C. Beynon. 


, LONDON, July, 1907 



THE origin of the name Bacon is said to be, on highest 
authority, in this wise. 

" Bucon," corrupted later into " Bacon," was the 
ancient name for the beech-mast the shiny, three-angled 
seeds of the beech tree, pleasant to sight and taste, 
which lie thickly in autumn beneath the shade of the beech 
woods. Upon the " bucon " of the once extensive beech 
forests of England our ancestors' herds of swine especially 
throve and fattened, so much so that a bucon-fed pig (in 
process of time a " bacon " pig) was most highly esteemed, 
and as such carefully designated. From ' ' bucon " the beech- 
mast, then, to "bacon" the hog's flesh, is but an easy step. 
Equally simple is the evolution of the family name. 
Grimbaldus the Norman, kinsman of the Earl of Surrey, 
from whom and his forefathers the whole Bacon clan 
claim origin, was granted lands by the Conqueror in the 
north of Norfolk. Among these lands was Baconthorp, 
called so, doubtless, on account of its beech trees, and 
from their estate the family took their sylvan surname, 
adopting, moreover, a bough of the beech tree by way of 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

Be this as it may, the family record since those distant 
days has been such as to leave its descendants small cause 
for dissatisfaction with their unromantic patronymic. 
Least of all the subject of these pages, who gloried ex- 
ceedingly in his illustrious kinsfolk and the family tra- 
dition which the punning motto, "ProBa conScientia," 
beneath his own crest so aptly expressed. Pedigree 
hunting was at one time a hobby with him, and he 
laboured long and laboriously to trace the branches of 
a family tree which bears more than a usual share of 
famous names. Highest of all among his namesakes he 
held in reverence and esteem Roger, the " Learned Monk 
of Ilchester," called by his wondering, if scandalized 
and persecuting contemporaries, " Doctor Mirabilis " a 
mighty mind, hundreds of years ahead of the cramping 
thirteenth century in which he lived ; a light burning 
brightly amid the densest shadows of the Dark Ages. 

Many Bacons, from the days of Lord Verulam onward, 
had tried vainly to establish Roger's connection with 
the family, but the mists of obscurity too closely hang 
about him. No proof is forthcoming, though there is 
strong inherent probability on several grounds that he 
holds kinship with men on whom, surely, there fell a 
portion of his mantle. 

With the great Francis the case is different. Here 
the relationship is well attested, though remote. The 
Bacon family with whom this book is concerned are an 
offshoot from the main stem whence sprang the wise 
Lord Verulam and his famous father, Sir Nicholas the 
Lord Keeper, and from which comes the present line of 
baronets premier baronets of England. The two 
families, though long distinct, are yet collateral, boast- 
ing the same origin, and with remote ancestors in 


Family History 

But many generations ago, probably some time in the 
sixteenth century, a scion of the old stock left the family 
home in East Anglia and wandered down into Somerset. 
Here he settled and prospered, and, his descendants making 
wealthy marriages, we soon have the Bacons of Somerset 
well established and in possession of a fair estate, Maunsell, 
near North Petherton, which they held for generations. 
But at length, after many years, there came a day when 
the family seemed on the point of extinction. Only 
childless female relatives apparently remained. The 
heir at law was advertised for, but no response was forth- 
coming, and finally Maunsell was sold and passed from 
henceforth into other hands. 

Yet all this while the rightful heir was in existence, 
and not so far away. In the first half of the eighteenth 
century there lived in Southwark a certain Thomas 
Bacon, a clothworker. He was a man of strictest in- 
tegrity and religious spirit. Of considerable learning 
also, for it is related that his Greek and Hebrew Bible 
lay constantly by his side. But pinching, grinding 
poverty was always with him. In vain he tried trade 
after trade in hopes of bettering his fortune. His lack 
of capital was ever against him, and his lifelong, unre- 
mitting labours sufficed with difficulty to keep the wolf 
from the door. 

His poverty was the more galling to him because he 
was convinced of the fact that he was the descendant of 
a rich and famous family, and (as he believed) direct and 
legal heir (through a younger son of a bygone generation) 
to a fine house and estate in Somerset. His lack of 
means very effectually prevented his making efforts to 
prove his claim and regain his rights ; but he carefully 
transmitted the family story to his son, and drew for him 
the family coat of arms ; arms which it was left for a 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

later generation to discover were those of the Bacons of 

But if the loss of his paternal acres was a deeply rank- 
ling thorn in the flesh (as we are told it was) to old 
Thomas Bacon the clothworker, it has long ceased to 
trouble his disinherited descendants. In truth, they 
presently found ample reason to congratulate themselves 
on the fact, for may it not be presumed that if Thomas 
Bacon had succeeded quietly to his rightful estate, his 
only son John would not have been compelled to earn 
his living by his own exertions ? Most assuredly he 
would not have been apprenticed (as he was) at four- 
teen to a china manufacturer at Lambeth. His special 
genius might never have been discovered (since why 
should a country gentleman concern himself with model- 
ling in clay ?) and John Bacon, R.A., the Sculptor, would 
never have raised the drooping family fortunes and shed 
an additional fame upon the name. 

Bacon the sculptor was an untaught genius and a self- 
made man. His master instructed him in the making 
of the conventional designs turned out by the factory, 
and he himself paid careful attention to the clay models 
which sculptors in those days were accustomed to send 
to be burned in the factory furnace. This was all ; yet 
at seventeen the Society of Arts awarded the humble 
apprentice 10 for the first work sent to them, and eight 
times afterwards in the years that immediately followed 
gave him other prizes, amounting altogether to over '200. 
In 1768 the Royal Academy was founded. Bacon entered 
as a student, and the year after received from the hand 
of Sir Joshua Reynolds himself the first gold medal 
awarded for sculpture. For a statue of Mars he ob- 
tained the gold medal of the Society of Arts, and also 
his election, in 1770, as an Associate of the Royal Academy. 



Page 14 

Family History 

Nor was this all, for a bust of his august Majesty King 
George the Third being desired for Christ Church College, 
Oxford, the young and rising artist was fortunate enough 
to secure the commission to execute it. 

Then came his chance. Clad in plain and sober clothes, 
armed with his best modelling tools, and with a silver 
syringe which did away with the ungraceful necessity 
of squirting the water on his model from his mouth, 
Bacon repaired to the palace to execute his task. The 
sculptor, as was inevitable with so successful a man, had 
many detractors as well as admirers of his own and sub- 
sequent days ; but on one point they all agreed. He 
possessed the most perfect tact and manners, especially 
in his dealings with the mighty. Royalty was pleased, 
and smiled upon the! aspirant. Where Royalty smiled 
in those days the rest of the world proved mighty agree- 
able. More copies of the Royal bust were commissioned. 
Orders poured in on all sides from the great and wealthy ; 
and the young artist was soon established in Newman 
Street as a fashionable sculptor, with more work to his 
skilful hands than he could well accomplish, and a 
rising fortune which at his death in 1799 amounted 
to 60,000. 

Those were the days when sculpture, of the large and 
imposing description, was in high demand, and classical 
allegory ran riot, in white sepulchral marble, over un- 
romantic themes. Benevolence and Commerce, con- 
siderably larger than life, wept inconsolably over the 
quite insignificant medallion of the departed city mer- 
chant ; and the Olympian deities did extravagant homage 
to plain and heavy Hanoverian kings in Roman togas. 
Had Bacon lived in later times his works would have 
been judged by other standards. In any case they can 
afford to stand on their own merits. Most famous 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

among them are the large statues of Johnson and Howard 
in St. Paul's Cathedral, and the great allegorical group 
in Westminster Abbey where, in the words of his personal 
friend Cowper the poet 

Bacon there 

Gives more than female beauty to a stone, 
And Chatham's eloquence to marble lips. 

The sculptor has ever been held in high esteem among 
his descendants, and his own children looked up to him 
as an altogether superior being. There is a bulky note- 
book yet in existence, on the title-page of which is written 
in the handwriting of his eldest son 

" Wise Sayings of my honoured and revered Father." 
The bitter irony of the fact that the rest of the book is 
absolutely blank is wholly unintentional. The starting 
of note books which are never completed is a family 
failing which extends even to the present generation. 
" Reminiscences of my Father and other persons of his 
Time," by the same hand, fortunately has advanced 
further towards (though it never attained) comple- 
tion, and its pages throw some curious sidelights upon 
certain celebrities of a hundred and thirty years 

First in order, as was fitting, came the sculptor's 
greatest patron, King George the Third. Most emphati- 
cally did Bacon oppose the too prevalent notion that this 
monarch did not possess superior intellectual quali- 
fications. In support of his eager contention to the exact 
contrary he quotes Dr. Johnson, and also Lord Erskine, 
who once remarked to him (Bacon), " The King is a 
damned clever fellow ! He has as much sense in his 
little finger as is contained in the heads of all his Cabinet 
put together ! " 

As to the King's moral qualities and high religious 


Family History 

principles no doubt ever existed. He was fond of religious 
discussion, and as Bacon's bent also lay decidedly in 
this direction it is probable that in the hours they spent 
together during the progress of the sculpture much edi- 
fying argument took place. On one occasion at least 
His Majesty was put to inconvenience by his love of moral 
discourse. At Windsor Castle was a certain gardener, 
with whom the King, somewhat imprudently, in the 
course of his private walks would sometimes condescend 
to converse on Bible subjects. As was natural, the man 
soon began to presume on his privilege, and unduly 
prolonged the conversations, His Majesty not liking to 
silence him out of respect for the sacredness of the topic 
of discourse. The sequel was related to Bacon (who 
recorded it) by a gentleman who held a position at the 
Castle. From his window, one morning, he beheld the 
King strolling quietly enough in the gardens, until, 
unexpectedly, he caught sight of the gardener, when he 
immediately turned and hastily walked away too late, 
however, for the gardener followed him. The King 
quickened his pace, the gardener did likewise. The 
harassed monarch began to run, so did the implacable 
gardener ; and it was with the utmost satisfaction that 
the interested spectator saw his panting Majesty win 
the arduous race, arrive first at the steps which led up 
to his library, and, entering, slam the door in the face 
of his terrible pursuer. 

As indisputable and flattering proof of King George's 
extraordinary memory, the memoirs cite how, having on 
one occasion inquired of the sculptor the number and 
names of his children, he never failed on subsequent 
occasions to ask after them all separately by name, 
never making a mistake, though the little Bacons were a 
numerous progeny. 

B 17 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

Royal affability went even further. It was not only 
in his professional capacity that the King received his 
sculptor ; and on a certain occasion Bacon went to Court 
in full dress, with blue satin waistcoat edged with gold 
lace, ruffles, knee buckles, sword, and powdered wig tied 
at the end with a black silk ribbon. This unwonted 
garb was perhaps hastily assumed. Certain it is that 
the black ribbon aforesaid came undone, and King 
George, who had an eye for detail, noticed it. " Bacon," 
he said, " your wig is untied. Here, I'll tie it up for you." 
With his own august fingers he performed this simple 
act, and thus it came about that somewhere among 
the family archives there yet reposes (or did until 
some time back) a dusty black fragment that once 
was touched by the sacred hand of the reigning 

More interesting are the sculptor's stories of his brother 
Royal Academicians, with many of whom he was on 
terms of great intimacy. At his house, 17 Newman 
Street, he was in the centre of a perfect little colony of 
distinguished artists, and nearly a dozen of his most 
celebrated contemporaries lived within a stone's throw. 
To his studio would come the great Sir Joshua himself, 
a small and thin figure with a rubicund face, holding his 
silver ear-trumpet to his ear, and vexing Bacon's 
Methodistical heart by his persistence in the evil habit of 
painting on a Sunday. Sir Joshua (says the gossiping 
" Reminiscences ") was a great snuff taker, and one day at 
the Council of the Royal Academy offered his snuff-box 
to his neighbour Cosway the portrait painter. Cosway 
excused himself on the ground that snuff always made 
him sneeze. " A single pinch," he repeated dogmatic- 
ally, " will make me sneeze for an hour." "I'll lay you 
a guinea that it does no such thing," said the President. 


Family History 

So the wager was struck, and Cosway, to make sure of 
his money, snuffed up pinch after pinch. But all to no 
purpose. Not a single sneeze could he evoke, and the 
triumphant Sir Joshua pocketed his guinea. 

Four doors off in Newman Street lived West, next 
President after Reynolds, under whose reign the Royal 
Academicians went by the name of the Tribe of Benjamin. 
He was a rapid worker, and when Bacon asked him how 
he contrived to get through his pictures so quickly, replied : 
" Because I do not, as so many other painters do, enter 
my study to consider what I shall paint, but to paint 
what I have considered." 

Then there was Thomas Lawrence, young, handsome, 
and of polished manners ; Barry, quarrelsome and 
penurious, who lived in a house, filthily dirty, without 
a servant, and, to save himself the trouble of making his 
bed every day, nailed down the bed-clothes at the sides 
and wedged himself in and out between them; Banks, 
whose face wore so grave and solemn a look that when 
he once began a speech, " Gentlemen, I come to you with 
a cheerful countenance," his audience shrieked with 
delighted laughter ; Nollekens and Flaxman, Copley, 
Opie and Stothard ; Russell, who painted the sculptor's 
portrait and the members of his family ; Fuseli, who ate 
raw meat to give him nightmare inspiration for his fan- 
tastic works, and because of the fearful nature of his 
subjects was known as " Painter in Ordinary to the 
Devil " ; Angelica Kaufmann, the lady Academician, who 
was so lovely that, though twice invited to her house, 
the prudent Bacon refused to go the second time, lest 
her dangerous fascinations should prove too many for 
him. All these and many others were among his 
friends and associates, and bulk more or less largely in the 
" Reminiscences " aforesaid. 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

John Bacon, R.A., was a man of a deeply religious 
turn of mind ; and it is small wonder that in days when 
the Church of England had reached its lowest depths of 
somnolence and apathy the teachings of the great Metho- 
dist Revivalists should have specially appealed to him. 
He became an ardent follower of Whitefield, and in his 
Tabernacle in the Tottenham Court Road was buried, 
on his sudden death in 1799. 

Cut short in the midst of full activity, he left behind 
him a quantity of half-finished works. These were com- 
pleted by his son John, the compiler of the memoirs, 
himself a sculptor of scarcely less merit, who at seventeen 
had gained the silver and gold medals of the Royal Aca- 
demy, and who proved a worthy successor to his father. 
Six of his monuments are in Westminster Abbey. In 
St. Paul's the best-known example of his skill is referred 
to in the Ingoldsby Legends as 

Where the man and the angel have got Sir John Moore, 
And are quietly letting him down through the floor. 

In this large group a cherub boy in the background 
stands holding a flag half furled. When he came to this 
part of his work the artist found himself suddenly at a 
loss for a model for his cherub. But not for long. In 
the nursery above, his infant son was at that moment 
making his presence known by vociferous yells. The 
sculptor was quick to take the hint. Sending for his 
enraged offspring, he waited until his features had sub- 
sided again into cherubic beauty, and then immortalized 
them in marble. This cherub who smiles down upon 
the dying warrior in St. Paul's Cathedral was the 
father of the John Mackenzie Bacon of the present 

John Bacon the younger sculptor was a gentle, re- 


Family History 

tiring man of pronounced evangelical views. He lacked 
ambition, and retired comparatively early from his pro- 
fession and took up residence at Sidmouth, in Devon, 
then a rising watering-place. Here he devoted himself 
entirely to Bible meetings and religious exercises, and to 
the bringing up of his numerous family. In his later 
years he suffered pecuniary losses. As was but natural, 
so guileless an old gentleman proved an easy prey for the 
unscrupulous. A designing lawyer obtained control 
over his property and disposed of it to his own advantage. 
Unknown to his client, he invested it in all sorts of un- 
authorized ways. Exposure came at last, and Bacon 
found himself much the loser by the transactions. What 
vexed his puritanical soul, however, more than the loss 
of his money, was the agonizing discovery that he was 
now the owner of all sorts of undesirable securities ; of 
several public-houses in London, and, worst of all, of a 
theatre, to which he could only bring himself, in pious 
horror, to refer to as " that House of Belial ! " 

The younger sculptor had many children, all of them 
clever and all of them handsome. One beautiful but 
short-lived daughter married John Medley, who became 
Lord Bishop of Frederickton. (In his youth a great 
friend of John Keble, with whom the Bacons therefore 
became acquainted.) The second son, Thomas, in turn 
a soldier, barrister, and parson, was an artist of consider- 
able talent. Cleverest and best-looking of them all, 
however, was John, the eldest, erstwhile the cherub. 
This son, born in 1809, in due course was sent to Corpus 
Christ i College, Cambridge. At Cambridge he was known 
as the handsomest man of his year. He was a good 
mathematician, became a Wrangler, and entered the 
Church ; but before the latter event he had met, 
at Sidmouth, and become engaged to, Mary Luosada, 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

whom he married in 1834, the week before his ordi- 

It is a fact so well established that to repeat it is only 
to state a truism, that remarkable men are bred of re- 
markable mothers. John Mackenzie Bacon was no ex- 
ception to the rule. His mother was, and still is (for 
at the moment of writing she yet survives at an extremely 
advanced age but in fullest possession of all her powers), an 
exceedingly clever woman. Her singularly handsome 
features, her keen bright eyes, her lively, nervous tempera- 
ment, she passed on to her fourth son, together with her 
quick intelligence, her love of learning, her strength of 
will. She gave him more than this also. A certain 
famous modern writer, drawing the portrait of the hero 
of one of his novels, describes him as possessing Jewish 
blood : " Just a tinge of that strong, sturdy, irrepressi- 
ble blood which is of such priceless value in diluted 
homoeopathic doses like the famous bulldog strain which 
is not beautiful in itself, and yet just for lacking a little 
of the same no greyhound can ever hope to be a cham- 
pion." From his mother the subject of these pages in- 
herited some small portion of this precious fluid, for the 
remote ancestors of the Lousadas were Spanish or Portu- 
guese Jews, of high rank and proud descent among their 
people. From this race sprang the D' Israelis, and there 
is, in fact, some slight connecting link between the two 

John Mackenzie Bacon's parents were a strikingly 
handsome couple. He, tall, fair, blue-eyed, and in later 

* Mary Lousada's great-grandfather was a certain Baron D'Aguilar, 
a man of great wealth, financier, and confidant of the Empress Maria 
Theresa, who ennobled him. Coming to England, he married a Da Costa, 
and had two daughters. One became a Lousada, and the other, who 
married a Mr. Stewart, was great-grandmother to the present Lady 
St. Helier. 


Family History 

life with a magnificent beard and noble forehead. She, 
small, dark, dainty and vivacious, with the brightest of 
eyes, the keenest of wits, and the most infectious rippling 
laugh. In talents and attainments also they were well 
matched. My grandfather was one of those rarely fav- 
oured mortals, sometimes to be met with, to whom all 
things come easily. In whatsoever he set himself to do 
he could, at once and without apparent effort, excel. 
He possessed moreover to the full that irresistible charm 
of manner which was his by inheritance. As artist, 
scholar, mechanician, sportsman, he was rarely gifted, 
but he lacked ambition, his means were limited, and his 
calling, as country, parson in remote districts, afforded 
him little scope for his splendid talents. Under different 
circumstances and with more congenial surroundings he 
would surely have achieved renown. 

As it was, after a few years spent in different curacies 
in the West of England he was, in 1837, appointed first 
Vicar of Lambourn Woodlands, in the Diocese of Oxford, 
a scattered village of some three hundred inhabitants, 
on the edge of the lonely Berkshire downs ; and here, for 
twenty-five years, he lived, and his children were born 
and spent their early years. 

Woodlands at the time the Bacons came to it was but 
newly separated from the parish of Lambourn, of which 
it had until then been an outlying hamlet. Some charit- 
able ladies of the neighbourhood, struck by the forlorn 
and utterly neglected condition of a spot three miles 
from the nearest church and school, had endowed a living 
there, and built a vicarage and church, the latter a small 
and barn-like structure which happily before many years 
collapsed, and was entirely replaced by an infinitely 
superior edifice. The wildness and remoteness of 
this place can now, in these latter days, be scarcely pic- 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

tured. In 1837, f course, railways were scarcely in 
existence. The Great Western was not opened until 
years later, and even then a long while elapsed before 
Swindon, fourteen miles across the bleak downs, be- 
came the nearest station ; and a longer period yet 
before the line reached Hungerford, five miles distant 
the nearest place with even a pretence (and that of the 
very slightest) to the dignity of a town. Newbury was 
nine miles away and Reading twenty-five. Letters 
from London cost elevenpence. The nearest doctor 
was three miles distant, the nearest tradesman five. All 
around stretched the dreary desolation of the empty 
downs. The place was high and windswept, bleak, up- 
land common, and in the severe winters the snow would 
lie in the unfrequented lanes to the very tops of the 
hedges, and the mail-van be buried for a week and more 
in the drift. 

As was but natural in so isolated a spot, the people 
of the soil were utterly uncouth and uncivilized. 
Even at the present day the Berkshire peasant, especi- 
ally in the more remote country districts, is not a par- 
ticularly bright or intelligent member of society. Seventy 
years ago the neglected natives of Lambourn Wood- 
lands were totally without education, without know- 
ledge, without manners, without law or order. The 
farmers were but little more enlightened than their hinds. 
The few gentlemen's houses of the neighbourhood were, 
with scarcely an exception, remote and widely scattered. 
It was to such a place, with such surroundings, that the 
polished scholar came and brought with him his pretty 
and accomplished young wife, whose youth had been 
spent largely in London, and hi the enjoyment of highly 
cultivated and congenial society. The change to both 
of them must have proved terrific, especially to my 


Family History 

grandmother ; but she quickly and pluckiry adapted 
herself to the new conditions, and set herself energetically 
to aid her husband in the Herculean task of amelioration. 
Soon there was a Sunday school established, a church 
choir, and other village institutions. Mary Bacon proved 
herself a model parson's wife, and before long other cares 
and interests were added to her busy existence. Her 
eldest son, Maunsell (named after the long-lost family 
estate), was born in 1839 ; Francis, her second, two years 
later; Harry Vivian in 1844; and on June igth, 1846, 
John Mackenzie (the second name from his godparent, 
Sir James Mackenzie, a college friend of his father's), 
fourth and youngest son ; for a fifth boy born eleven 
months after survived but a few weeks. 

Thus appears on the scene his entry perhaps unduly 
delayed the hero of these pages. If it be urged (as it 
well may be) that too much space has been devoted to 
the description of his parentage and ancestry, the writer 
would plead in extenuation that, since a man's disposition 
and natural bent are largely settled for him before ever 
he comes into the world, a study of the causes which 
predispose them is necessary to the true understanding 
of his character. Moreover my father himself took a 
most lively interest in the story of his forefathers. As 
has been stated, pedigree hunting and the tracing of his 
intricate family tree to very remote forbears, was at 
one time an especial hobby with him. In pursuit of it 
he mastered the mysteries of " Court Hand," and spent 
long hours among the dusty archives of the Record Office 
and British Museum. Partly through his own efforts, there- 
fore, there is probably a larger mass of material to hand 
concerning his family history than is usually available. 

Early scenes and associations have ever the strongest 
influence upon our minds, nor can later years and widen- 


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ing knowledge ever wholly efface the stamp of first im- 
pressions. It is fortunate that my father has left behind 
him his own record of his early childhood days, a record 
it would otherwise have been impossible to supply. The 
following three chapters are in his own words, and were 
written during the last couple of years of his life. 




WITH a small effort of memory there will come into 
my mind the far-off recollection of the evening of 
a long warm summer day, the sun already set, and a 
vaguely oppressive stillness in the air, broken only by 
the dull drone of insect life. I had strayed alone to the 
limit of our home grounds, thinking proudly for the 
fiftieth time of how I had that day attained the dignified 
age of five years ; and I stood listening for the sound of 
wheels which tarried. With the exception of a few 
sparse homesteads there was nothing but wild, wide 
country, largely woodland, all around, and I recall how 
with ears intent, and with a certain uneasy wonder, I 
now and again caught the wholly unwonted sound of 
some soft music floating in the air as if from a vast dis- 
tance. It was impossible to locate or explain the sound, 
the source of which remains to this day a mystery, but 
on returning to the house and conferring with a brother 
two years my senior, it was agreed between us that these 
subtle strains might somehow be connected with the 
Great Exhibition, an explanation which, preposterous 
enough, considering that London was sixty miles away, 
was not beyond the stretch of my own imagination, 
while it doubtless had its origin in the fact that our 
parents and others of the family were absent that day 
on an excursion to the world's wonder in Hyde Park. 


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We ourselves were eagerly waiting to hear of the marvels 
they had seen, and they were already more than an hour 

Whether childish excitement and fatigue had had 
some unwonted effect upon the nerves I know not, but 
my brain must have been set a-thinking in a way that 
has through all my subsequent life fastened that day 
with a strange vividness upon my memory, and what 
may be better worth recounting, often in the years but 
lately past, when, engaged in physical investigation, I 
have been listening at night for far or faint sounds, I 
have irresistibly been carried back fifty years to the 
night of which I have spoken. 

Yet earlier recollections of course have some discon- 
nected abiding-places in my memory ; but from this 
period onwards the more striking incidents and events 
that made up the years of childhood seem to be recorded 
in my mind in something like a well-ordered sequence. 
I can never forget my distress, short-lived but intense, 
when fifteen months later I was made to know the occa- 
sion of England's national sorrow. The Great Duke 
was dead, and I was under the impression to be gathered 
that day from all lips that the land could never know 
his like again. But in the meantime a matter of extra- 
ordinary moment and interest had occurred in our un- 
eventful and unimaginative little parish. The church, 
a masterpiece of jerry-building, which had been erected 
for my father, the first incumbent, just thirteen years 
before, began to tumble down, and this beyond all power 
of restoration. So big balks of timber were planted 
against the walls to prevent their falling outwards, and 
a new church of Gothic design and fair proportions was 
forthwith commenced on a neighbouring site. This 
through many months converted the parsonage grounds 


Childhood Memories 

into a busy scene, and gathered workmen of various 
crafts from all the district round. 

To watch the feats of handicraft and engineering skill 
that come within the builder's task was a source of un- 
ending delight to me, and doubtless also had its in- 
structive side. Moreover among the hands themselves 
there were many strange and maybe a few lawless char- 
acters, with whom, partly in awe and partly in childish 
admiration, I sought occasional intercourse, not without 
gaining impressions which, whether for good or ill, were at 
least abiding. And let it be confessed that ours was but 
a semi-civilized neighbourhood at best, where poaching 
and theft were rife and where the policeman as yet was 
undreamed of. In the hour off work, as, leaning against 
a shed, clasp knife in hand, he demolished his dinner, 
it was not difficult to coax some one among the men to 
tell some tales of adventure in the woods or on the downs, 
and though these may have been largely drawn from the 
imagination they doubtless possessed a substratum of 
truth and reality. 

Not more than two or three parishes intervened be- 
tween our neighbourhood and that of which Richard 
Jefferies wrote, and the ruder element as well as the more 
untutored and superstitious which he has portrayed 
were not far to seek. Away on the heath was surely 
the very fortune-teller whom he described. The self- 
same gipsies encamped in the hollow. I could point 
to the very cross-road trysting-place where loafers con- 
gregated when " there was any mischief in the wind." 
There was the uncanny spot where the ground sounded 
hollow, and more than one other place haunted by 
apparitions beyond all possibility of doubt, if there was 
any sort of reliance on tradition. 

The Wise Woman of our parts was wise too in that 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

matter of curative herbs of which Jefferies tells. I re- 
member a carter who had a " tur'ble bad eye " which 
no treatment could mend till he applied to the old hag, 
who for a shilling banished " the evil " with a charm or 
incantation. But besides this resident enchantress there 
was an itinerant quack practitioner, who was a very 
august person indeed, locally known as Doctor Compo ; 
venerable in appearance, deliberate in speech, and pos- 
sessing as a principal part of his stock-in-trade a certain 
sagacious shake of the head which irresistibly forced 
conviction on anybody. Everywhere the country folk 
paid him homage and on occasions halfpence and for 
his greatness my own respect how could it be other- 
wise ? was profound. I regarded him much as I should 
a genie of the " Arabian Nights," and whenever I saw a 
chance of getting an extemporized story out of my father 
my special request invariably was " Tell about Tompo ! " 
The gipsies, as may be supposed, were in no way at- 
tached to the place; living a nomad life, coming for 
a short sojourn, and again without warning striking their 
tents and moving on unmolested where they listed 
throughout a wide district. They were wholly exclusive, 
keeping to their own race, among which alone they mar- 
ried, and of which they boasted long descent. In some 
cases they possessed plate or other heirlooms which 
would go to prove their tradition ; and their strongly 
distinguishing complexion and cast of feature marked 
them as quite apart from the people of the soil. In 
general they were particular about religious observances, 
and brought their children to the clergyman for baptism. 
On one occasion my father was requested to christen 
twins, which in lieu of better garments were brought 
simply wrapped up in a cloth. The names chosen and 
afterwards entered in the register were Angelina and 


Childhood Memories 

Delarifie. I myself in after years was called upon to 
christen a gipsy child in another parish church, and, the 
parents being absent, the name had been carefully taken 
down by the clerk as Lemontinie, and this unconscionable 
name I duly gave and entered ; and it was not till later 
that I learned its true interpretation. The name of the 
Vicar, then absent from home, was Clements, and the 
gipsy mother apparently desired that her babe, born in 
passing through his parish, should be called in compli- 
ment Clementina. It is a pity that I was not better 
informed at the time. 

For certain superstitions about the place there was 
perhaps no insufficient excuse. As an example : The 
one public-house stood in a lonesome spot where the 
main road, little frequented, crossed a mere narrow lane, 
which same lane running through the parish for a couple 
of miles did duty for a villageStreet, though nowhere were 
there more than occasional isolated houses along it. 
Two or three hundred yards from the public-house to- 
wards what only by courtesy could be called the village, 
stood a holly bush just where the lane was narrowest 
and darkest withal, by reason of high banks and tall 
hedgerows. This bush, or rather tree, with bare stem 
and spreading top, marked a spot of ill repute, for beneath 
its boughs now and again on dark nights a spectre of 
some sort was to be seen. Accounts varied as to its 
precise form and appearance, but as to the reality of the 
apparition there was no dispute, and the terrors it in- 
spired would suffice to cause the villager, who we pre- 
sume had just left the inn, to hurry back again and 
fortify himself with another glass. 

But the day came when the tales of that haunted spot 
assumed a new significance. Years after, when we had 
all left that part of the country, tidings reached us that 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

a labourer employed in mending the bank had come upon 
human bones under the identical holly tree. Here is 
splendid material certainly for those who would pursue 
psychical research with the hope of finding evidence of 
supernormal manifestations. Or if the reader be more 
prosaic and would prefer a more rational explanation, 
let me suggest the following : In days forgotten there 
had been presumably a foul deed committed at that 
spot, and somehow a whisper of the story had got abroad. 
It would be quite sufficient in that superstitious age and 
country that an evil tale should attach itself to any 
locality, to invest the place with ghostly but imaginary 
terrors. In the particular instance the story chanced 
to be true. 

Five miles away along the main road another and not 
very dissimilar tale was located, which was also divulged 
in the days I seek to recall. It was another wayside 
public-house, and cronies would tell of the way in which 
the landlord and his son would often be at high words, 
when if sufficiently exasperated the young man would 
retaliate by bidding his father be careful, as he could 
tell that against him which would assuredly hang him. 
Years after, when the inn had changed hands and while 
alterations were being made in an outhouse, the skeleton 
of a full-grown man was found beneath the floor. Then 
it was that a story of bygone days was recalled. A 
drover stopping the night at that house had incau- 
tiously boasted of the large sum of money he carried. 
Mysteriously, and no one at the time could tell how, the 
drover disappeared that same night. In this case no 
unquiet spirit, that I ever heard, haunted the spot. 

The drovers and their cattle, be it told, were an occa- 
sional and very striking feature in our village. The long 
lane I have spoken of was really part of a main byway 


Childhood Memories 

leading across downs and open agricultural country 
from London far down into the West, in fact away into 
Wales, and along that unfrequented and fairly direct 
road, well suited for the purpose, would come at certain 
seasons enormous droves of Welsh cattle ; fine black 
beasts with gigantic horns, in the charge of raw-boned, 
stalwart Welsh drovers, shouting in their barbarous 
tongue ; all making their way slowly and laboriously 
up to the London market. Each single drove would 
often be half a mile long, filling up the highway from 
hedge to hedge, and as many of these would follow in 
succession the road would be fairly blocked till the 
enormous train had passed by. As a boy of twelve, it 
was part of my daily routine to walk or run half a mile 
to a private tutor's along this road, and I well remember 
the slow rate of progression which one had to make if 
involved in one of these formidable droves and walking 
with them. On the other hand, if you met them and 
were afoot the drovers would in no way help you, and 
progress was absolutely so difficult that the schoolboy 
found it far the quicker mode to force his way to the 
other side of the hedge, or make a long detour and reach 
home that way. 

I shall always retain the impression, irresistibly formed, 
that among the worthies of our little place there were 
remarkable characters whose equal shall be found no- 
where. My love for many long since passed by is yet 
green. It nearly broke my heart when Eli left for the 
Australian gold-diggings. Eli was the factotum among 
our household. I was allowed to go and see Eli for five 
minutes every evening in the kitchen before I went to 
bed, and maybe he imposed somewhat upon my youthful 
imagination. But then he could do such wonders. He 
could put the big ladder up single-handed. He also 
c 33 

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could put a lighted tallow candle down his throat without 
injury. It was quite certain in my mind that if any one 
made a fortune at the " diggings" it would be he. 

But Eli went, and in his place came Henry, a burly, 
powerful man in robust manhood, and a true hero, if 
prowess in encounters with a gang of desperate poachers 
would give him a right to such a title. I think I have 
never known a man of more dogged courage, of which 
during his years of service we had many proofs, but I 
will content myself here with one ; which it must be 
allowed hardly came in his legitimate way of business. 
The new church was fast approaching completion, and 
the time had arrived for throwing down the scaffolding 
which had long done service on the outside of the spire, 
and which was thought to be no longer needed. But 
ere the crazy structure was actually demolished a violent 
storm one night caught the weathercock, standing too 
tall and not sufficiently lubricated, broadside on, and the 
next morning the big brazen fowl was found no longer 
erect and defiant but lying over on his side, stone finial and 
all, held only by the lightning rod. It was necessary 
that some one should go up and, bodily lifting off the heavy 
stone and vane, carry them down the condemned scaffold. 
But the builders knew that scaffold too well, and one and 
all declined for any sum of money to attempt the task. 
Whether the job was actually offered to Henry I cannot 
remember, but bribe or reward of any kind did not come 
into the question. Pure love of adventure solely actuated 
him ; and promptly climbing alone and unassisted to 
the top of the spire he brought down the heavy mass 
before all hands assembled. 

I have told of the poaching in the district, which was 
practised in a regular businesslike way with method and 
daring. But there was aVorse crime yet, the committal 


Childhood Memories 

of which had not been infrequent. This was burglary, 
perpetrated beyond a doubt by practised adepts. Many 
large country houses were in the neighbourhood, a neigh- 
bourhood which, as we have shown, was singularly quiet 
and unprotected. Small wonder if it were regarded as 
the happy hunting-ground of London house-breakers. 
They were never caught, nor do I remember that they 
were ever frustrated in any determined attempt. Im- 
punity made them daring to the verge of recklessness. 
Sometimes too their methods were not without a touch 
of humour. 

On one occasion, having effected entrance into the house 
of a wealthy neighbour, a clergyman, they relieved him 
of as much of his " portable property " as they desired ; 
after which they amused themselves by locking the pro- 
prietor into his bedroom. They also, for mere sport 
clearly, took away his will but not far. Six months 
afterwards the gardener found it at the foot of a spreading 
cedar into which they had evidently tossed it, and where 
it remained until some rough storm dislodged it. But 
they had also left a seasonable word of advice with their 
unwitting clerical benefactor. On his study table they 
had found his watch, which of course they removed, 
but left in its place a slip of paper with the words, de- 
signed to catch his eye, " Watch and Pray." 

In another large house hard by, the master, a wealthy 
country squire and magistrate, was fully expecting their 
visit. Indeed it could hardly be otherwise, for the gang 
were evidently billeted somewhere in the neighbourhood 
and were making a clean sweep of it. Apparently, too, 
the squire had got some credible information of the gang's 
intended movements, and to be fully prepared for them 
collected his staff of trusty menservants together, gave 
them such weapons as he thought fit, and further provided 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

for their welfare and his own by repairing to the coach- 
house at nightfall with the means of making good cheer, 
and by a warm fire sat the night out happily enough. 
Then, their vigil over, they with a good conscience returned 
to the house to find it broken into, the thieves gone, and 
everything in the larder gone also. 

In the same old countryside since there has been more 
than one daring burglary even in recent years, but 
methods have changed. The cart driven up silently on 
the roadside grass is no longer considered safe, and high- 
ways generally are shunned. All that is most valuable 
is reduced to the smallest compass, concealed about the 
person, and then the rogues will walk through the night 
towards London along the nearest line of rail. 

One desperately sad termination to a home burglary 
story I cannot omit. An elder brother conceived an 
inordinate fancy for poultry-keeping. Indeed this fancy 
is as keen with him to-day as it was fifty years ago, 
though the incident I relate nearly broke his heart. Of 
all his stock he loved one cherished Dorking hen beyond 
words. I know not why, but he called her " Foozles." 
And then there came thefts at night among the fowl 
roosts, and in alarm for his favourite he begged our 
father to allow his spring gun to be set in the fowl house, 
where Foozles just then was in a coop covering a dozen 
chickens. In the morning the well-trusted Henry already 
mentioned went to see that all was well, as indeed up to 
that point was the case, except that Foozles had got out 
of her coop. In this of course there was grave danger 
danger to Henry's legs, which with a noble courage 
and devotion to his young master he paid no heed to. 
He simply desired and resolved to catch and restore the 
bird to safety ; but alas, herein was the sad mistake. 
Deftly avoiding the " pounce " made to catch her, Foozles 


Childhood Memories 

in alarm retreated madly with flapping wings. She was 
strong and she was heavy, and she blundered against 
one of the gun wires the wire that had been set with 
such pains over-night. The clumsy, cruel weapon swung 
round truly to the strain, and in spite of antique lock 
and rusty barrel went off like a blunderbuss. Poor 
Foozles ! 




SOME notable characters, whose names are yet 
familiar to all, come into my early home recol- 
lections. For though my father's name appears in those 
days probably only in the clergy list, yet he had been 
associated with many different parts of the country, 
and well known throughout a large radius not only as a 
ripe scholar but as an all-round man who could do things, 
many and various, off his own bat. Grandson of John 
Bacon, R.A. who in early manhood won the first gold 
medal offered by the Royal Academy, and to his death 
remained without a rival in the school of English sculp- 
ture my father inherited a large share of high artistic 
talent, while he excelled in every branch of mechanical 
skill or scientific study which he took up. Being more- 
over a gifted speaker, he became in much request as a 
lecturer, and perhaps the proudest moments of my Boy- 
hood were those when I was called upon to act as assistant 
with the oxy-hydrogen lanterns. 

It was partly this same lecturing, and still more, I 
fancy, the chance of fishing in the neighbouring famous 
trout stream, the Kennet, that formed the bait which 
brought us as a guest a connection of my mother's, Charles 
Kingsley. I must have attained some ten years when I 
learned that Charles Kingsley was coming to pay us a 
visit, and at that time he was simply the Rector of Evers- 
ley, and " Two Years Ago " was only in the press ; 


Anecdotes and Reminiscences 

but " Westward Ho ! " had been before the world for a 
couple of years, and the author of " Alton Locke " was 
already distrusted by many, admired by more, and re- 
garded by some with a genuine hero-worship. Of these 
there was no lack in our home circle, and thus I knew 
to expect a man whom I must needs revere. But " West- 
ward Ho ! " had as yet been denied me, and the only work 
of Kingsley's that had come my way was the little volume 
" Glaucus," which always lay on our drawing-room table, 
and which I confess had at that time failed to interest 
me at all. Somehow I could not in the least enter into 
the feelings of paterfamilias at the seaside, a martyr to 
ennui, and vainly trying to make a sketch or catch a 
mackerel. Nor did the cure mapped out for him in these 
pages commend itself to me. Therefore in my own 
mind I had misgivings that I should not understand the 
man who was supposed to charm everybody by his talks 
about natural history and country life. 

But when he came, his mind, if I am not mistaken, was 
running on another theme. One may gather as much 
from his " Letters and Memories." He was at this time, 
if ever, the Muscular Christian. The war had deeply 
stirred him. "It seems so dreadful," he had written, 
" to hear of those Alma heights being taken and not be 
there." He had spoken of the " wolf vein " in him, 
and one can well fancy the combative attitude ascribed 
to him when the house-breaking ruffians I have already 
described were about his own home, when " no house 
was secure. When a neighbouring clergyman was 
murdered in his own garden by burglars, and the little 
Rectory at Eversley which had scarcely a strong lock on 
its doors, was only just armed with bolts and bars before 
it too was attacked by the same gang." 

I had the pleasure of knowing his eldest son, my con- 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

temporary at Cambridge, and it was of this son, about 
the time I am describing, that the Dons of Trinity used 
to tell a characteristic story. Being asked at the High 
Table what expectations he entertained about his son, 
Kingsley is reported to have replied, " I hope he may 
turn out a healthy fool." 

All in keeping with this was the way in which he first 
accosted myself. It was one of those moments in life 
branded on one's memory, and is proof to me of how 
much may hang on a few words which one is sometimes 
asked to say to those who are young and impressionable. 
I remember another home incident, when a bishop and old 
college don who was staying with us was asked to give 
me word of counsel on the eve of my going to Cambridge. 
It occurred to his lordship to warn me against ever 
"acting a lie," and when I asked for an illustration of 
his meaning he said, "If you see some one coming along the 
pavement whom you don't want to meet, and cross over 
the street to avoid him, that is a practical lie." Of the 
correctness of this there could be no question, yet I know 
that I doubted the worldly wisdom of taking that advice 
too literally. But to return to Charles Kingsley. When 
his attention was called to me, he did not make it the 
occasion of instilling moral advice ; he simply said, " Come 
and let me feel your arm." Clearly his best wish for 
me at that time was that I should develop muscle. 

Two incidents very characteristic of the man occur to 
me as happening while he was with us. In the middle 
of a long day's fishing he repaired to a neighbouring 
farm-house to beg a glass of milk, and quickly ingratiated 
himself with the hospitable mistress of the house who 
supplied his wants. But his attention was drawn to a 
dog on the chain, and going, as his nature was, to speak 
to it, he saw that the poor brute had no water in his 


Anecdotes and Reminiscences 

basin. Whereupon he not only went himself to the well 
for fresh water, but sternly rated his late friend for her 

The other incident occurred in Newbury street, where 
some loutish individual, clumsily backing into him, trod 
heavily on his foot. On this Charles Kingsley seized the 
fellow by both shoulders, and turning him about said 
with characteristic emphasis, " My good man, if the Al- 
mighty had meant you to walk backwards He would have 
given you eyes at the back of your head, depend upon it ! " 

I should be wrong if I implied that Kingsley ever 
omitted to call attention to any noteworthy object in 
nature, great or small. It was said of him, and I believe 
with perfect truth, that in a country ramble his keen eye 
missed nothing, and he loved to point out to others the 
sounds dear to him which but for his acute ear might 
escape notice : " The note of the nighthawk ; the call 
of the pheasant ; the distant bark of the fox." The charm 
of this or any other theme he liked to talk on was borne 
home to me in after years when I heard him lecture at 
Cambridge. Even those who from indolence or inaptitude 
disliked lectures from their hearts would crowd to hear 
Kingsley discourse, and never miss a word. And that 
he appealed to all equally was best proved in the final 
scene, where every class, from the peer to the gipsy crowded 
to see the last. Max-Muller, remarking on this and on 
the man's many-sidedness, pointed out that among the 
rest that day were huntsmen in pink, for though as good 
a clergyman as any, Charles Kingsley had been a good 
sportsman, and had taken in his life many a fence as 
bravely as he took the last fence of all. 

Kingsley wrote of Bishop Wilberforce, "I am more 
struck with him than with any man except Bunsen I 
have seen for a long time." I myself wonder if any one 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

could have seen the Bishop without being extraordinarily 
struck with him. Shovel hat and gaiters, though they 
must have counted for something, had little to do with 
the peculiar admiration which he compelled in those 
who saw him for the first time, and more particularly 
heard him speak. His nickname of " Soapy Sam " might 
have arisen simply from his suave soft speech, but 
whatever his utterance might have been, that thought- 
ful look and marvellously intellectual brow would 
ensure everybody's listening to him with entire at- 
tention. Probably had he been of less striking pres- 
ence he might have been less remarked upon, and in any 
case one may be safe in rejecting a full half of the stories 
told about him. But one or two (which as far as I know 
have remained untold) may be worth recounting as 
having happened while he was our own Bishop in our 
own neighbourhood, place and circumstance being alike 
well known to me. 

The Bishop was staying the night with a certain fox- 
hunting squire, who certainly would not fail to entertain 
his guest with the utmost cordiality and the best of good 
cheer, and it seems that the visit went off right well till 
it came to the matter of family prayer, when there ap- 
peared some slight lack of organization. Still the host 
in due compliment and with well-bred politeness asked 
his lordship to officiate, in which the latter acquiesced. 
But the Bishop had not failed to note the ill-rehearsed 
scene, and grasping the situation said quietly, " Will you 
tell me the last chapter you read at family prayer ? " 
Now the old squire was not ready in such a fix as this, and 
mutely appealed to a sporting friend beside him, in which 
however he made sad mistake, for his friend, loving a 
joke too well, whispered in his ear, " Say the thirtieth 
chapter of St. Mark." 


Anecdotes and Reminiscences 

In another parish another squire was showing the 
Bishop the church which stood in his own grounds. 
And the Bishop having seen and approved, the squire 
with reckless vanity asked him to come and see his own 
pew, in which in truth there was much to see ; the luxu- 
rious cushions, the handsome carpet with hassocks to 
match, the whole hedged in and screened from view by 
the high oak partition. The proud impropriator showed 
it off, and pointed to the baize -covered table in the 
middle, on which some handsome church services ostenta- 
tiously reposed. " It only wants one thing," the Bishop 
remarked. " And pray what is that, my Lord ? " "A 
pack of cards." 

When the Bishop came to consecrate the new church 
there was of course a high function, and hospitality on 
a large scale at the Vicarage, and to be out of the way I 
was consigned to a room upstairs, where I was in 
due course promised my dinner. But all among the 
household were off their heads, and hour after hour I 
remained forgotten and famishing, till at last some one in 
commiseration brought me a dish of Normandy Pippins. 
Now this was a luxury which after a good plate of meat 
I loved well, as any healthy boy should, and being hungry 
beyond words I finished the dish with nothing else to 
appease my craving. That I should have been wretchedly 
ill afterwards was, I suppose, natural enough, but I have 
always regarded it as curious that from that day I have 
loathed Normandy Pippins with a disgust which I cannot 

I must be allowed to tell one or two unusual scenes 
connected with the new church which I witnessed at an 
age when I could keenly appreciate them. The corner 
seat of a prominent pew was invariably occupied by the 
principal farmer of the place, who was likewise church- 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

warden. Immediately behind him sat his brother, a 
burly, athletic man whom few would have cared to stand 
up to, still less to be knocked down by. It was surprising, 
therefore, to say the least, to see this powerful young 
fellow, one morning's service, just as the congregation 
rose for a hymn, strike his brother without apparent pro- 
vocation a heavy blow in the back. The brother did 
not resent the assault in the least indeed if his expression 
indicated any emotion it was rather that of satisfaction 
and triumph. Of course after service an explanation of 
the young yeoman's extraordinary conduct was asked 
for and easily obtained. The victim of the blow put the 
whole case in a nutshell. " I felt sum'mut crope up my 
back," he explained. " So I turns my head and says to 
my brother, * Jim, d'ye see a lump between my shoulders ? 
That's a mouse. You hit 'un hard as soon as we stand 
up.' You see I wore this coat at market last Thursday. 
There was a sample of corn in the pocket, and I suppose 
there was a mouse in among the corn." 

Then there was occasional trouble about the Sunday 
hats. A certain gruesome story related to the older 
church, where, in the middle of the unlovely oblong 
you couldn't call it a nave stood a stove round which, 
summer and winter, sat two ancient parishioners, known 
as Gog and Magog. The stove did well to put their hats 
upon in summer, but a day came when Magog, forgetful 
of the season and of the fact that the stove was alight, 
placed his hat on the grated cover and forthwith dropped 
asleep. Now that stove top soon grew hot, near to 
redness, and that hat dated far back in the century, 
and presently the congregation were painfully sensible 

No, I won't go on with that story. Let me tell of a 
tremendous personage who was squire for a short while, 


Anecdotes and Reminiscences 

and who was the most fastidious, the most proud, as also 
the most irascible man, I can recall. Insanely particular 
about everything touching his pride or person, he was 
perhaps most scrupulous about his Sunday hat, which 
his footman at morning service was made to deposit with 
infinite care in the recess of a window in the new church 
now where in the ordinary course of events the vulgar 
would not approach. Well, to this hour I don't know 
how it happened, but one Sunday an unkempt rustic of 
the rougher sort shambled up the aisle, and ventured 
in a fit of temporary insanity, I suppose to throw his 
greasy cap on to the same window ledge. But he was awk- 
ward as he was uncouth, and the odious piece of felt 
actually pitched right inside that faultless topper, where, 
for all the lout cared, it was going to remain. My pen 
is all too feeble to describe the awful exhibition of in- 
dignation and wrath which followed. 

But to another scene. In due course an organ, sup- 
planting the modest harmonium, was erected at the west 
end, and then the hat trouble broke out again ; for its 
handsome front was ornamented by a moulding which 
formed a sort of ledge, and on this ledge the senior mem- 
bers of the choir young farmers and the like deposited 
their hats. Now this had to be remedied, and certainly 
my father would have been equal to the occasion. But 
the organ builder, a brilliant performer, was in compli- 
ment asked to come down and preside at his instrument 
at some choral function the organ-opening probably 
and being told of the little trouble about the hats merely 
said, " Leave that to me ! " Then at the commencement 
of service, the choir being assembled, and the hats in 
extended line along their high perch, he took his seat at 
the organ, and as he sat down made with either arm a 
sweep to right and left. The hats hailed down and 


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ricochetted among the stalls ; but there was no disturb- 
ance, for the next moment, with a crash on the full 
organ, out pealed the opening bars of the ' Hailstone 
Chorus.' Nothing was ever said by any one, neither 
did any hat thereafter find a place on the organ case. 

At this time and for some years after, the Vicar of the 
mother church was Robert Milman, afterwards Bishop 
of Madras ; and a man more capable of dealing with the 
troublous condition of a large and lawless parish could 
not well be imagined, if force of character counts for any- 
thing. An overgrown village without the organization 
of a town, the place was a hotbed of malice and mischief. 
Arson was rife, and a dozen farms or houses had been 
burned down without the misdemeanant being even 
guessed at. Indeed defiance of all kinds of authority 
was the common cause of complaint, and the Vicar devoted 
himself to the reformation of the rising generation, with 
what result may be gratefully told to-day. It will not 
be hard to understand that such a man met with con- 
siderable personal opposition from sundry bigoted in- 
dividuals who in the nature of things are to be found in 
wellnigh every place. And there was a certain exclusive 
religious sect, presided over by a woman preacher, whose 
attitude was peculiarly antagonistic and on one occasion 

The woman in question, believing in her own superior 
gift of devotional eloquence, one day designedly asked 
the Vicar into her cottage ; and there and then called 
upon him to offer prayer. The request was at least 
unceremonious, but it was complied with, for Robert 
Milman was the very last man to be taken unawares, 
nor was any man readier to turn any opportunity to ac- 
count. He therefore in fitting and forcible language 
gave expression to the hope that this misguided 


Anecdotes and Reminiscences 

woman might be brought to a better state of mind, and 
then he took his leave. I remember his coming up to 
to tell my father the story with much relish, but the 
episode did not really end there, for a few days after- 
wards the same female fanatic ran out into the street as 
he passed, and shaking her fist at him cried triumphantly, 
" Ah ! We've prayed for thee now ! " 

In public speaking few men were more happy than 
Mr. Milman and none more original and entertaining. 
His voice alone ensured his being listened to, by reason 
of a certain harshness and inflexibility which made his 
periods the more incisive. I recall a platform speech 
of his at a meeting convened for charitable purposes. 
It was not very long after the extension of railways into 
our remote district, and they were still more or less an 
object of wonder in our quiet part of the country. It 
seemed only by happy thought, therefore, that Milman 
made allusion in picturesque language to the scene to 
be witnessed at the railway-station. The harnessed 
steam monster coming in with its train of coaches, the 
ensuing bustle controlled by official authority ; then there 
followed a picture of the familiar scenes on the platform ; 
the newspaper boy was not forgotten, nor a certain dirty 
little man who was always in attendance with his tin of 
yellow grease oiling the wheels. And then he broke off 
abruptly, and explained that that dirty little man was 
himself, whose duty as treasurer it was to grease the 
wheels that day, which he would do by appealing for a 
liberal offertory. 

It is worthy of remark that both Milman and Wilber- 
f orce were keen horsemen, yet both rode a loose, ungainly 
seat, a fact to which the fatal accident to the latter may 
be in part attributed. I am told that on one occasion 
when the two had ridden over together to my father's 


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house from Lambourn and were about to take their 
leave, Robert Milman said, " My lord, let me show you 
the short way home," which would mean a stiff bit of 
country such as might satisfy the most ardent cross- 
country rider. 

One of the notable characters of our part of the 
country in the days I can recall was Tom Hughes, the 
father of the better known but certainly not more talented 
Tom Hughes, author of " Tom Brown " and of the 
"Scouring of the White Horse." The first of these 
books it will be remembered was one of the most popular 
publications of the time, and when it first appeared all 
who knew the older generation said at once, " It must 
be the father who has really written the book." This 
was doubtless unjust, but when it was also said that 
Tom Hughes the elder must have written much of the 
" Scouring of the White Horse," this indirectly can 
hardly have been otherwise than true. There was no 
man who could repeat more country songs than he. 
There was likewise none who could more cleverly and 
happily improvise them. It may thus be hard to tell 
to-day which among the wonderful collection of lays in 
the volume comprising the " Scouring of the White 
Horse and the Ashen Faggot " were real ballads of olden 
time, and which emanated from the fertile brain of the 
Squire of Kingston Lisle. 

Tom Hughes the elder was the life and soul of the 
famous West Berks Archers. He wrote of their deeds 
in graceful and sometimes in comic verse. He would 
tell stories as none else. Among his varied gifts was a 
marvellous aptitude in imitating the voices of birds and 
animals to the life. He spent his later years at Donning- 
ton Priory, near Newbury, and my eldest brother relates 
how once, walking with him through the outskirts of 


Anecdotes and Reminiscences 

the town, a dog was yelping noisily behind a tall yard 
door, which provoked Hughes to play him a trick. 
Placing his head near the ground on the outside of the 
door, he imitated the snarling of a rival dog so perfectly 
as to drive the noisy cur to fury. 

A scouring of the famous White Horse scarcely eight 
miles off across the downs occurred in my recollection, 
and in some degree resembled the scene described by 
Tom Hughes the younger. But the life had gone out of 
it, and the former spirit of the old haunts had departed. 
The same was equally evident when early in the 'sixties 
the Volunteers encamped in force below the " Manger." 
The crowd they drew was largely composed of a wholly 
undesirable rabble, and as for the old sports the back- 
sword play and the chase of the pig with a greased tail 
the days of such things had clearly gone by, nor can they, 
it would seem, ever again be revived in the old country- 
side. The attempt would be as futile and as pure an 
anachronism as was that of Lord Eglinton when in 
the last century he tried to reintroduce the ancient 

Three miles westward of my own house, on a wild open 
common, is an old-time race-course, once the scene of all 
such rustic merry-making as was held periodically on 
White Horse Hill. Here some years back there was an 
attempt made to revive the old revels. All the old games 
were to be there, and were there, and there was a large 
gathering. But it was a wretched failure. No one could 
wield the quarter-staff as of yore. The old trick of wrest- 
ling was lost, and it gave no one pleasure to watch a 
country lout grin through a horse-collar. By and by it 
was thought that the reason of the change was discovered. 
In the corner of the grounds, stolid, but with a vague 
sense of duty, stood a rural policeman. He was inter- 
D 49 

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fering with nobody, yet he clearly had no place in that 
gathering ; and the repressing effect of the blue uniform 
spoilt everything. 

But one chief cause of the change that was coming 
over all such meetings lay undoubtedly in the altered 
and fast altering relation between employer and employed. 
The true attachment, often life-long, of the labourer to 
his master was passing away ; the hold which parson and 
squire alike used to have over the masses in every place 
was on the wane. In the days I recollect in country 
places the parishioners for the most part were wholly 
illiterate, and of necessity came to the clergyman for 
advice or assistance in all sorts of difficulties. And it 
was the same with the squire or large yeoman farmer, 
who exercised the strongest influence over those de- 
pendent on him, and who though often a strict, not to 
say stern, disciplinarian, was respected if not loved by 
all. The harvest home was a great and important 
annual function, looked forward to through all the year. 
One gathering of the kind I used to attend, and the 
devotion of the common folk, who with wives and mothers 
were all present, to the farmer squire the village king 
was a spectacle one could never forget. Fifteen years 
afterwards I should not have known where even to find 
a single harvest home within as many miles. The old 
retainers had died out, few stayed more than a short 
time with a master, and as a natural consequence very 
little true union existed. 

One cause of the labourers abandoning their old masters 
may have been due to their low wages and wretched 
dwellings. Their fare was of the coarsest and poorest, 
and for water they had nothing but the stagnant road- 
side pond befouled by the farmer's cattle, and green 
with duck- weed. Everywhere was overcrowding, and 


Anecdotes and Reminiscences 

sanitation was unknown. Yet the fact, which can be 
borne out by every parish register remains, that the 
death-rate was no higher than to-day, epidemics were at 
least not more frequent, and the schools were practically 
never closed. It used to be truthfully and feelingly 
said by the old people in our parish certainly a high 
and healthy spot " Folks may live here a'maist as long 
as they'r a mind to't." 

But there were higher wages heard of " round London 
way," especially at hay harvest, and as crops were earlier 
in that part it was common for mowers to go and cut 
the grass in Middlesex and return in time for the mowing 
at home. The far-off pastures were more than fifty miles 
away, but this did not deter some of the lustier hands 
from strapping their scythes on their backs and walking 
the whole distance in a single day. 

Shepherding was counted the most important, as it 
was the most responsible, of farm labour. An old shep- 
herd, who was generally chosen for his ability, was com- 
monly looked up to as a man possessing superior ex- 
perience and knowledge among his kind. If your dog 
ailed you went to the shepherd for advice. If you were 
in doubt about any past local event the shepherd would 
" mind all about it." His tales too were wonderful and 
not to be gainsaid. I remember one that used to inspire 
me with terror. On the downs were many lone and 
isolated barns placed there to receive any crops that 
might be gathered around. They were sure to swarm 
with rats, and in a hard season, when food ran short, 
these rats were said to leave in a body at night, and cross 
the down in quest of food elsewhere. The shepherds 
should know this, for day and night they would be 
abroad in winter at lambing time, and they would tell you 
how perchance one might fall in with an army of these 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

flying famishing rats, in which case the shepherd, even 
with his dog beside him, would perish miserably, de- 
molished body and bones on the bleak plain. 

The ignorance and wrong-headedness of the folk who 
admittedly had " had no laming " was past credence. 
They believed firmly in the " evil eye." They could prove 
to you that stones grew from year to year, even as 
cabbages grow, though of course much more slowly ; 
since did they not pick the " big uns " off the field 
every season for road mending, yet their number never 
diminished, showing, beyond doubt, that the "little 'uns" 
had "growed." Some of them went further. An old 
carpenter, and preacher to boot, was employed to re-hang 
a field-gate at home, and he left so big a space beneath 
that I myself could crawl under. On asking him the reason 
for this he explained to me in all sincerity that all things 
"growed/' and that I should find the earth would grow up 
to the gate. This apparent fact he had learned from 
experience, failing however to see that it was the gate 
which settled towards the ground. 

Any one of our people was fully prepared to see an ap- 
parition any day of his or her life. And not a few were 
satisfied that they had done so. But it was almost too 
much for a neighbouring clergyman when a woman 
parishioner came and begged him in great distress to 
" Come and lay our Will'um." The woman and her 
husband were an aged couple, who had been summoned 
by the master of the workhouse to attend their pauper 
son William's funeral. This summons they had obeyed, 
and had looked their last on the plain coffin with William's 
name upon it. But a week had gone by, and their son 
had overnight returned to earth and home. Wherefore 
they besought the parson's aid to u lay " him. So the 
parson went, and truly enough found William ; but very 


Anecdotes and Reminiscences 

much in the flesh, and hungry to boot. Of course the 
workhouse authorities had got wrong with the names, 
and some other pauper unknown had been the passive 
principal at William's supposed funeral. But the old 
people could not reason all this out, and were hard to 
convince that their son was yet alive. 

As I have referred to the neighbouring parish of Lam- 
bourn, I should certainly not omit to make mention of a 
boy two years my senior whose home was there. We have 
sung together as trebles in the same choir. Subsequently 
he became organist, and then well, the story is long 
as it is brilliant. He is known to all the world now as 
Sir George Martin, of St. Paul's Cathedral. 

Three miles beyond Lambourn on the open rolling 
downs stands a remarkable house, once more often seen 
by strangers than it is to-day. It dates from the time 
of the Plague, when in dire alarm my Lord Craven fled 
to this wild lone spot, where in good truth he might hope 
to escape the pursuit of any human scourge. A nephew 
of Inigo Jones built him his house to order, and it may 
be seen to this day how the servants' apartments, in- 
cluding the kitchen, are removed from the main dwelling 
by a passage two hundred feet in length. This might 
have minimised the danger of contagion, but one wonders 
on looking at this strange domestic arrangement whether 
the people of that time were particular about having 
their dishes hot when brought to table. 

But I would talk not of Ashdown House but of Ash- 
down Coursing in its palmy days. It may be a grave 
lament that hares are scarce, and that the glory of those 
old sporting meetings has disappeared. But I would 
appeal to all who can see another side to the matter. 
Granted all the recreation ; the physical training and 
the fascination of fair sport ; the improving of a noble 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

breed of dogs ; the picturesqueness of the scene ; the 
artistic beauty of that struggle of nature's most grace- 
ful creatures. Yet if you have ever regarded that struggle 
at close quarters, as the hare with eyes straining back- 
wards, and with not a ghost of a chance given her, doubles 
for the last time beside you, can you be callous to the 
poor beast's agony ? Sport is glorious, but in its votaries 
it seems to me to lead to inconsistencies. In Kingsley's 
life there are two incidents that read something like this : 
He was going to the altar rails at one morning service, 
when his congregation suddenly missed him. The fact 
was that he had stooped behind a high pew to pick up 
a poor maimed butterfly which he proceeded tenderly 
to place outside the chancel door. Suffering life appealed 
to him so strongly. 

But, say, a week after he is writing from on a holiday 
visit somewhat thus : "I played a fine trout to-day for 
an hour and killed it in the end." How about the suffer- 
ing life here ? Such prolonged torture is inseparable from 
such sport as his. On the other hand, I know that some 
people argue as if they really knew that a fish doesn't 
feel ; in which case perhaps they suppose that it is no 
torture to a creature to know that it is hopelessly caught. 
Have such ever taken note of a live mouse in a trap ? 

I have given examples of the quondam ignorance and 
credulity of the humbler people of the soil. Maybe, 
however, there was not much more to be said for those 
whose chances in life had been better and brighter. 
Eight miles westward of White Horse Hill, or Uffington 
Camp, as it is called, measured in a straight line (or say 
along a Roman road), stands another noble hill crowned 
in like manner by earthworks and forming one of the 
ancient line of fortified positions running, in Roman 
times at least, across the country. It was to this hill in 


Anecdotes and Reminiscences 

the days of which I am writing that a certain learned (?) 
archaeological society proposed to pay a flying visit on a 
day appointed for their annual I was going to have 
written holiday, but field day will sound better. At that 
time I was domiciled with a tutor li ving hard by ; one 
of those enviable men who ride their hobbies with perfect 
confidence in their own ability and excel in everything 
they take up. At seventeen, self-taught, he became 
Champion Archer of All England, and held the belt for 
many years. As an artist, a shot, a fisherman, a mechanic, 
he was equally successful, and when I add that he was 
reckoned no less distinguished as a classical scholar, it 
will be believed that he was held in his own district at 
least in high estimation. 

Perhaps it was not unnatural that such a man should 
have held a somewhat poor opinion of the average erudi- 
tion of his neighbours. Anyway, it was a fact that he 
misdoubted the technical knowledge of the members 
of the archaeological society aforesaid, and, as dearly 
loving a practical joke, determined to put it to the test. 
Who shall blame him ? Others had done the like before. 
He collected an assortment of Roman relics, quite as 
genuine as the relics you shall find on Waterloo. A 
collection of New Zealand arrow-heads and other imple- 
ments, sent him by a brother, served well for ancient 
weapons. A discarded chimney-pot in fragments did 
duty for Roman pottery, portions of hoofs and the accou- 
trements of horses were easily improvised, and so on. 
These he carefully buried on the heights at suitable and 
easily recognised spots, and then when the field day, as 
also the archaeological troop, arrived, he went with them 
to the earthworks and volunteered his ideas as a classical 
authority on the probable military arrangement of the 
ancient camp, suggesting that they might break ground 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

and explore. He pointed out the likely site of the 
Ferrarium, and the navvies went to work, and surely 
enough found relics of the ancient smithy. Then he 
indicated the Armamentarium, and there they found 
traces of the armoury. His guess as to the position of 
the old Culina, or kitchen, was verified by quite half a 
bushel of broken earthenware. By this time enthusiasm 
among the onlookers was at its height, and the moment 
had come for the denouement. He gave learned reasons 
for a certain spot having probably been the Sanatorium, 
and thought they might find something there. And 
they did. Under the top sod lay a number of bottles 
and pill boxes bearing the name of the popular doctor 
of Marlborough ! I believe that archaeological society 
became defunct. 


WAR was virtually declared with Russia, as all the 
world knows, in February, 1854, and before the 
end of that month our first transports had put to sea 
with troops for the Crimea, while a week or two later 
the Baltic fleet had left our shores. 

The men of Berks should remember this well. The 
seat of Admiral Dundas, commanding the Black Sea 
fleet, was but seven miles from our home, and many a 
sailor before the mast hailed from our near villages. 
But it was mainly as soldiers that our young men went to 
the war. Among others went a family of three strapping 
sons, all in the Guards. I remember their leaving, how 
proud they were, how brave they looked in the portentous 
bear-skin of that day ; how their friends at home, chiefly 
in jealousy, spoke of them and their comrades as " feather- 
bed soldiers " ; and how few the months before all 
the world had to admire their splendid endurance and 
heroism. A few more weeks, and all three sons had 
laid down their lives in battle or as victims to worse fate 
begotten of the muddle of those awful months. How 
the tidings were received in their humble home will be 
told presently. 

In England the rigours of that first Crimean winter 
will never be forgotten by any of those whose memories 
can travel back so far. For myself, I remember it best 
by a snow man of colossal proportions built with infinite 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

labour on our lawn, a work of many days which endured 
as a monument through many weeks. As a stupendous 
work of art I do not think the Ice Palace of Montreal 
impressed me more. The tremendous accumulation of 
snow around the house was more than the labour avail- 
able could well deal with. Great limbs of trees came 
down, and all avenues, save a few of the most indispens- 
able, remained blocked. 

But outside the grounds the scene beat all description, 
surpassing anything that had been witnessed by any 
villager living. On the main highway, one of the highest 
and most exposed in the country, the snow had swept 
up in a mighty ridge, drifting across from the valleys, 
and piling itself till it hid the hedge-rows ; a wild, wide 
plain of desolation. Traffic, including that of the mail 
carts, was stopped, sheep were buried, and human lives 
too were lost out on the downs. The actual cold may 
have been probably was intense, but in cases like 
this it is not the dwellers on the high ground who suffer 
most. Cold bracing air is a heritage, and its greater 
dry ness makes it harmless. Whereas in the valleys 
through which cold winds sweep relentlessly, and where 
the air in day hours as well as night lies damp and clammy, 
you shall find that vegetation suffers far more ; all life 
is at a lower ebb, and maladies are more frequent and 
linger longer. 

I am aware that in speaking of exceptional times in 
one's early recollection one is apt to overestimate. 
The tendency in after life is to regard all that impressed 
one most in early days as unparalleled in its way. The 
veteran of to-day would declare that no one ever sang 
like Jenny Lind, no one ever played cricket like Alfred 
Mynn. Moreover bitter weather would specially appeal 
to a child, and even a short spell would affect his imagina- 


Berkshire Village Fifty Years Ago 

tion as much and more than a long-continued winter 
would in after years. Thus I am prepared to admit that 
my childish estimate of the great winters that occurred 
while I was yet in my teens is subject to discount. 

Cold winters frequently come in batches, more par- 
ticularly in pairs. It was in the winter previous, i.e. in 
January, 1854, that the temperature in London reached 
a minimum of 8 below zero. In that month the N.W. 
railway line was rendered impassable, and a mail train 
was imbedded for many hours near Tring ; while on the 
G.N.R. main line matters were yet worse ; more particu- 
larly between Peterborough and Newark, where both 
rail and road were barred. Lastly the Thames itself 
was blocked, collier vessels were stopped back down the 
river, and as a dire consequence gas companies could not 
fulfil their contracts and the city was threatened with 
darkness. It was then that bread riots arose, one of the 
first, I fancy, being at Exeter, where my grandfather had 
been living, and where the mob broke into the bakers' 
shops, the cause being the rise of the fourpenny loaf to 

These facts read to all of us to-day altogether excep- 
tional. Yet they were by no means unprecedented. 
They were even exceeded in the first year of the century, 
when it is stated that " street lamps could not be lighted 
on account of the oil being frozen . . . while none of 
the carriers arrived from the country nor any sheep or 
cattle, and the town was without water except what 
was got by melting down ice and snow." It may have 
been the depressing effect of the hard winter, or it may 
have been the influence which the war had on men's 
minds, the cholera fiend which stalked the land, or the 
general distrust of that authority which just then was 
causing shameful mismanagement alike at home and at 


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the seat of war. Some ,or all these causes may have ac- 
counted for a spirit of superstitious fear that had gone 
abroad. This infatuation, strongly marked in our un- 
tutored part of the country, may be traced in many ways 
and many places. 

Take one example, which, commented on by our 
common folk, took strong though not abiding hold upon 
my boyish imagination. The winter was wearing on 
and it was now mid-February, when tidings came from 
Devon that footprints of a mysterious and, as it was hinted, 
supernatural appearance, had traced themselves in the 
snow round about Exmouth, Dawlish, Torquay, and many 
other principal towns. These footprints were said to 
resemble those of a donkey, but the mystifying and 
alarming fact about them was that, instead of proceeding 
in a rational manner with treads right and left, the im- 
pressions showed that foot followed foot in a single line, 
while the uncanny visitor passed only once by each house 
that he visited, sometimes choosing the ground, some- 
times the roof, and sometimes the top of a high wall, 
but never, even on the narrowest ledge, disturbing the 
snow to right or left. More staggering than all was the 
statement that this nameless being had traversed more 
than a hundred miles of a most devious and irregular 
route in a single night. 

The story once abroad, the mystery and marvel grew 
apace, and this in spite of all that could be done to restore 
public equanimity. Professor Owen, with a carefully 
executed drawing of the footprints before him, assured 
the public that the traces were those of a badger ; that 
badgers were nocturnal, and would become stealthy 
prowlers in a hard winter ; and that the hundred-mile 
track was made not by one creature but by many. 
A clergyman, ministering in the midst of the alarmed 


Berkshire Village Fifty Years Ago 

districts, alive also to the mental mischief which was 
being wrought, and solemnly reminded by a member of 
his community that " Satan should be unchained for a 
thousand years when the latter days were at hand," 
thought it well to utter a word in due season to his hearers ; 
and justified his doing so by a picture of " the state of 
the public mind, of the villages, the labourers, their 
wives and children, old crones and trembling old men not 
daring to stir out after sunset or to go out half a mile into 
lanes or byways on a call or message, under the conviction 
that this was the Devil's walk and none other, and that 
it was wicked to trifle with such a manifest proof of the 
Great Enemy's immediate presence." 

I cannot find that the mystery was ever satisfactorily 
cleared up, but the correspondence relating to it, which 
was continued for several weeks in fact until the winter 
left us in one of the leading London papers, ends with 
a letter from a resident at Heidelberg stating, on the 
authority of a Polish doctor, that the identical footprints 
in a single line were commonly seen in Russian Poland 
and were universally attributed to supernatural influence. 
It is little wonder that the same strange portent was 
reputed to have been seen in our own near neighbourhood ; 
and it was during this period that late one winter's after- 
noon a woodman brought an alarming story into our 
own village to the effect that in one of the neighbouring 
woods he had just encountered a " tar'ble wild beast, 
seemin'ly like a bear." If truth be told, the man was a 
sad drinker, and there was no evidence to prove that he 
was particularly sober on this afternoon ; but his tale 
was enough to scare many of our country folk out of their 
wits. The man refused to resume work in the wood, 
and some trouble might have ensued. It happened, 
however, that a parishioner who had lost his donkey 


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succeeded in tracing it to this same wood, where it had 
strayed. By a process of reasoning which it will be easy 
to arrive at, this simple circumstance restored the public 
peace of mind. 

I have spoken of the general sense of mismanagement 
in high quarters which prevailed, but I may have failed 
to convey an idea of the real exasperation that was openly 
expressed. The fearless, outspoken denunciations of 
Mr. (after Sir) W. H. Russell, the correspondent of " The 
Times " were in everybody's mouth, and warmly com- 
mented on, and became, I think, in my own case a valuable 
piece of early education. The sort of things which, 
listening open-mouthed, I heard uttered nearly half a 
century ago seemed to have found an echo in time 
not long gone by. I turn back to a " Times " of this old 
date and find columns of editorial comments written 
in the strain of the following extracts made almost at 
haphazard : 

" The year has overturned our faith in many things, 
shaken many convictions, and dissipated many illusions. 
. . . The public time would have been best employed in 
a searching inquiry into the working of our War De- 
partments, yet . . . the nation is at a loss on whom to 
fix the responsibility of numerous mortifying failures and 
neglects. . . . Together with misgivings as to general- 
ship we were beginning to entertain other doubts. To- 
gether with the letters of our Correspondent thick and 
fast came the news of neglect, disorder and incapacity. 
Day by day the truth became better known till we awoke 
to the conviction that . . . Balaklava was a cemetery 
and Scutari a pest house." 

It is, to say the least, instructive to read some of these 
utterances of long ago in the light of recent history, but 
having referred to the attitude of the public mind towards 


Berkshire Village Fifty Years Ago 

sorrow and loss of brave lives due to official blundering, I 
may illustrate by an example how this mismanagement 
was borne by the simple country folk among whom I lived. 
The tidings of the death of the three Guardsmen were 
communicated to my father, whose duty it became to 
break the news to the parents, both of whom were living, 
and both of whom too, according to the custom of those 
days, laboured in the field the man at a wage of not 
more than nine shillings a week, the woman at little 
more than half that pittance. My father found the 
couple at work in the same field, at some little distance 
asunder, and considered that he would do wisely in 
addressing himself to the wife alone, leaving it to her 
to tell her husband of their terrible bereavement. The 
good woman stopped her work, listened attentively but 
silently till the bare truth was told, then resumed her 
hoeing with the simple remark, " They ought to have 
been sar'd better." Then my father withdrew, but, 
watching from a distance, noticed that the woman never 
left her work to go and tell her husband. Yet this was 
not apathy. Far from it. It was only an example of 
the patient enduring among the common people of what 
they saw no cure for. 

As a proof that these good folks were in no measure 
lacking in warm parental feeling, I may mention the 
following true and touching incident. Adjoining the 
Vicarage grounds lived an old widow and her son, of 
whom the latter, now well on in middle life, had formerly 
been in the Royal Marines and at this time subsisted 
on his pension, aided only by such modest pay as he could 
earn by light work chiefly in my father's employ ; for 
hisjservice smartness had died out of him, and he was 
now slow and shrivelled, and somewhat crippled withal. 
The mother was no more demonstrative than any other 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

of her class, and perhaps the depth of her attachment to 
her son might never have been manifested had not an 
order come from head-quarters, consequent upon the 
war, requiring all old service pensioners of all descriptions 
whatsoever to repair to a neighbouring town to be ex- 
amined with a view to their being re-enlisted. There 
was no evading the order, and the widow became terrified 
beyond words at the bare thought that her elderly and 
decidedly incapable son might be torn from her home. 
That her maternal alarm, though wholly irrational, was 
entirely sincere, was abundantly proved the next day, 
when with genuine tears of joy and satisfaction she came 
to tell us that WilPum had not only come back again, but 
the best of all possible news they had told him " he 
wasn't no good for nothing." 

WiU'um, be it said, was a highly esteemed friend of my 
boyhood, and much respected by reason of his power of 
spinning yarns. He was also long-suffering under per- 
secution. He was always fair game, and never resented 
any pranks played upon him. I may give an instance. 
Chief among my earliest home pursuits, always of a 
mechanical nature, was the manufacture of crossbows. 
A crossbow is a somewhat formidable weapon to entrust 
to a boy, but as I was allowed no projectiles save such 
as I could procure from the hedgerow, it was considered 
sufficiently safe in my hands. A green stick is not fitted 
for a serviceable arrow, being too weak and heavy, 
and withal too soft to preserve its point. Experience, 
however, came to my aid ; baking the sticks made them 
light and hard. A triangle of parchment inserted in 
a cleft in the upper end made a tolerable feather, while 
the other end, tapered and terminating in a nail cunningly 
tied in, became a point quite capable of doing mischief. 

Grown expert with this weapon, I soon learned that it 


Berkshire Village Fifty Years Ago 

was unsportsmanlike to practise on the poultry or the 
cat ; therefore with a sense of proper pride I went in quest 
of blackbirds and the like, and no harm would ever have 
ensued had it not been for William, who one day ventured 
to ridicule my " toy," which he declared " wouldn't 
hurt a fly." Now it chanced that this taunt was over- 
heard by Joseph the gardener, who, always ready to be my 
champion, now stepped forward and dared William as a 
man and a soldier to stand a shot across the length of 
the yard. I really hardly know how it all came about, 
but William's honour was now at stake, and eventually 
he was bantered into offering himself as an unwilling 
target, on condition that he might use a stick to ward the 
arrow off ; and then what followed is too ludicrous for 
words. First he measured out twenty yards, the stipu- 
lated distance, making them as long as he could. Next, 
buttoning his coat, he huddled himself together so as to 
offer the smallest possible front to the enemy ; and lastly, 
taking a broken paling, proceeded to wave it vigorously 
to and fro in front of his face, thinking thereby to intercept 
the arrow, if Joseph for the game had grown too serious 
for me to take a part in might happen to make a true 
shot at him. Joseph, rejoicing at the wretched suspense 
of his victim, took long aim, and the moment after he 
released the arrow William's hat flew off, and the old 
man, white as a sheet, rising hastily, picked it up with 
the arrow which had pierced both sides still sticking in 
it. William, despite his years of service, had never been 
under fire before, but had he been in a score of actions 
he could never have had a nearer escape from injury. 
Need it be said that he preserved that hat with much 

I have defended our people from a charge of apathy, 
and I do not think that there should be brought against 
E 6; 

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them any imputation of selfish indifference or want of 
friendly feeling, but the following fact is typical. William 
had an old comrade living just four miles away, one 
who had shared with him a considerable portion of the 
voyage of life, and of whom he liked to speak and would 
have been pleased to meet. Each knew fully of the 
other's whereabouts and circumstances, and each had 
abundant leisure to renew old acquaintanceship; yet 
both lived out the residue of their lives many years 
and never met nor sought to meet. 

The conclusion of the Crimean War brought home a 
modest proportion of the young men who, full of ardour 
and exuberant spirits, had " gone to fight the Roosians " 
two years before. They were proud of their share of 
glory, but their keenness for soldiering was gone, and 
they were sadly sobered withal. They mostly went 
back to farm life or to copse work as woodmen, and for 
a while you would know them by their upright carriage 
and a certain conscious superiority but not for long. 
Toil soon bent the back and rounded the shoulders, and 
they became the country labourers once again. 

But throughout the land, and more particularly in 
towns, there were a large and hopeless number who had 
no work to turn to, and philanthropic associations were 
formed to get these men employment. It happened 
that the post of gardener was vacant at home at this 
time, and my father, making application to one of the 
above associations, was given the names of two men who 
were available. One of these men, however, being told 
of the chance open to him, promptly died, owing, as the 
officials said, to sheer excitement. The other man, 
lank and middle-aged, known as Robert, was duly en- 
stalled as gardener, and of all who ever filled that post 
became by a very long way the most remarkable. 

Berkshire Village Fifty Years Ago 

Of the theory and practice of gardening he knew abso- 
lutely nothing ; and indeed he was entirely destitute of 
ideas beyond those which soldiering had given him. 
Thus his methods of going about his work were found 
to be peculiar. If he essayed to weed a patch of turnips 
he would give himself the word of command and then 
march to the bed, shouldering his hoe precisely as he 
would his bayonet on parade. Again, scorning a tool 
house, he used to " pile arms " with the various garden 
implements, an exceedingly difficult operation, for the 
spade was too short, with a slippery handle, and the rake 
was too long and top-heavy to boot, when, as he insisted, 
it was reared prongs uppermost. One of his peculiarities 
was that he would constantly come " for orders," a de- 
mand which was not always easy to satisfy ; and on one 
such occasion, to keep him quiet, my mother bade him 
weed her much prized rock- work, enjoining on him that 
he must be very careful about the work. In half an hour 
Robert was back, radiant with self-satisfaction, and 
insisted that he had made a very clean job. In terror 
my mother hastened to the spot, to find every plant up- 
rooted and the labour of months destroyed. 

But quarter-day brought us relief from Robert. He 
had to walk four miles into the town to receive his pension, 
and having been absent the entire day returned at night 
in a condition which greatly alarmed the maidservants. 
Interrogated in the kitchen as to what account he could 
give of himself, he curiously pleaded the same malady 
as his deceased comrade, declaring that he had suffered 
from excitement. 

Robert was many pegs below the intellectual standard 
of our average countryman of those illiterate days, who 
in spite of much crass stupidity, possessed a certain 
shrewdness and a gift of rude but pointed repartee, and 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

above all a great idea of not being " bested " by any- 
body. Boors as they were, I do not think they would 
have been readily taken in by the confidence trick or 
any ruse of that nature. I may give an example. 

A certain pestilent sect, claiming supernatural powers 
and making gain where they could by their impostures, 
visited our neighbourhood, and three of them took up 
their quarters one evening at a public-house in a neigh- 
bouring village, where they simulated prayer with loud 
voices far into the night. The next morning two of them, 
creeping downstairs on tiptoe, with long faces and bated 
breath informed the landlord that one of their party 
had died during the night, but that he, the landlord, 
should have no uneasiness, as they were going 'to fetch 
one of their brethren from hard by who was possessed 
of powers whereby he could raise the dead man to life 
again. And with this they departed. 

Now the landlord was a typical Berkshireman, and by 
the light of his reason argued thus " If they fellers can 
rise 'un, maybe I can ! " and with this he fetched a 
hurdle stake and, going upstairs, began to belabour the 
corpse with right good will. Needless to say the resurrec- 
tion trick was readily accomplished, and the rascally 
gang were heard of no more in our side of the country. 

Were I asked what books appealed to me most at 
about the time I have been describing, I should be in- 
clined to mention first Mitchell's " Orbs of Heaven," the 
production of an American author, but probably fairly 
well known in England among the comparatively few 
readable volumes of that date dealing with popular 
science. I may at the same time be permitted to mention 
that both Sir Robert Ball and Dr. Downing! have made 
similar remarks with regard to this work. The style, 
which is decidedly grandiloquent, is at least pardonable 


Berkshire Village Fifty Years Ago 

in such an enthusiast as the author, but sometimes his 
vivid imagination fairly runs away with him. He sees 
our great ancestor sitting under a tree gazing for the 
first time and with bewildered mind upon the going down 
of the sun ; and on this a gloom greater than that of 
nature settles on him till the moon gets up and completes 
his astonishment. In this attitude he sits out the night, 
and is struck completely dumb when the sun gets up again. 
Here is quite enough to set any boy thinking, and he 
presently begins to wonder what he is coming to next, 
when looking on he reads how " East and west and north 
and south from the watch towers of the four quarters of 
the globe peals the solemn mandate, Onward." No one 
will fail to understand that this was a book in a thousand 
half a century ago. 

But another book of a lighter nature, though not 
devoid of teaching, was " The Seasons," by Thomas 
Miller. For really good and wholesome anecdotes, ap- 
propriately introduced and racily told, I venture to think 
that there was no book of that date like it that ever came 
my way. Yet I never saw more than that one copy in 
my life, nor have I ever chanced to hear any one else 
refer to that book. And this makes me wonder what 
becomes of all the old but really good books which do 
not get out of date. Are they simply torn up as soon 
as the backs are shabby, and so pass not only out of print 
but out of all existence ? 

Certain old-time histories, of which I had knowledge 
by tradition only, took strong possession of my mind at 
this time. A walk of only three miles, though across 
the boundary of the county, took you to Littlecote, one 
of the noblest Early Tudor houses in the kingdom. There 
was and is a peculiar spell and fascination about the 
solemn secluded old mansion not to be excelled elsewhere, 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

chiefly by reason of its history, which, not more strange 
than true, was spoken of with bated breath by story- 
loving cronies of our place. Scott has told the ancient 
story, which he was at pains to verify, yet it appears not 
widely known. It related to Elizabethan times a 
dark and rainy November night, when an old nurse was 
summoned by a horseman who told her that her services 
were needed by a person of rank, and that she should be 
handsomely rewarded ; a condition of the bargain being, 
however, that she must be blindfolded for reasons of 
secrecy. To this the old woman consenting, she was 
placed on a pillion and conducted many miles through 
rough and dirty lanes to a large house, where, her sight 
being restored, " she found herself in a bed-chamber in 
which were the lady on whose account she had been sent 
for and a man of a haughty and ferocious aspect." A 
shocking scene ensued, a child being presently born and 
immediately cast on the fire by the man already men- 
tioned ; after which the nurse, being allowed for a period 
to pay attention to the lady, was given a large sum of 
money and conducted home again in the same manner 
in which she had been brought. But the horrified 
woman had attempted to take measures which might 
serve to discover the house. She had cut a piece out 
of the bed-curtain and sewn it in again. She also had 
counted the number of the steps which led from the bed- 

The shameful story with this bare clue was laid before 
a magistrate, with the result that the crime was brought 
home to the proprietor of Littlecote Hall, known com- 
monly by the name of Wild Dayrell. According to 
Aubrey, " the Judge, Sir John Popham, gave sentence 
according to Lawe, but being a great person and a fav- 
ourite he procured a noli prosequi and it is stated as a 


Berkshire Village Fifty Years Ago 

significant fact that the property passed then and there 
into the hands of the judge." 

A few months later, Wild Dayrell, out hunting, encounters 
sitting on a stile a witch, who utters a curse upon him. 
The horse taking fright throws its rider, breaking his 
neck, and needless to say that stile became a haunted 
spot. Nor does the story end here, for legend has it 
that in her curse the old crone vowed that " to Littlecote 
House there should ne'er be an heir," and subsequent 
history has somewhat justified the supposed imprecation. 

The name of Wild Dayrell occurred again in a happier 
connection during the years now being referred to. In 
May, 1855, a horse owned by Mr. F. L. Popham won the 
Derby. The horse, which became famous in equine 
pedigrees, was a dark brown standing sixteen hands 
one inch, and was bred by its owner. It was reared 
moreover in the stables of Littlecote Hall. More than 
this, it was trained in the home park and ridden in the 
great race by the owner's private jockey ; and by winning 
under these exceptional circumstances not only created 
a great sensation but dispelled some traditional delusions 
of the turf. Mr. Popham gave the horse the name of 
Wild Dayrell. 

But a certain later history laid hold of my imagination 
as perhaps none other a history that seemed to tran- 
scend all else, a drama whose plot was laid not on the 
earth but in the skies. I know not how to account for 
its extraordinary fascination in my case. Idiosyncrasies 
are puzzling, but mine perhaps may be regarded as mania. 
My own constant dream was of flying, or rather floating 
in the air. This I know is common enough, so common 
as to have acquired the special name of " levitation." 
I believe Ruskin constantly fancied, as a child, that he 
had the power of flying down stairs. My own experience 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

was similar, only I should describe it as a delicious 
dream of floating rather than flying. It was a delicious 
dream, and in my case goes back as far as memory. 

But to return. Mixed up with this early imagination 
of soaring at will in the free air was the reality of the 
grandest balloon venture on record, as narrated by my 
own father, who was intimate with the leading spirit 
of the great enterprise, Mr. Robert Hollond. This 
heroic explorer I prefer to style him thus rather than 
as the modest M.P. which he subsequently became 
was at Cambridge with my father about the year 1831 or 
earlier ; and ere the autumn of '36 was over all Europe 
was ringing with his splendid daring and achievement. 
Of this we have no written record save that of Mr. Monck 
Mason, a fellow- voyager, whose turgid style much mars 
an otherwise most fascinating narrative. 

Mr. Hollond, having caught the true fascination of balloon- 
ing, and having made the acquaintance of the famous 
Charles Green, determined on a voyage of discovery through 
the heavens which should eclipse all records, pow the 
" Immortal Three," as they have been well styled, fared 
through the night of their adventure, a night full of in- 
cident, not unmixed with alarm, and how the next morn- 
ing's light found them in the far forests of Germany, has 
been told too often to be repeated here. But in my 
youth I never could hear the brave story too often, nor 
would I then believe that any feat of the kind could ever 
surpass it. Possibly until another Immortal Three, 
Andree and his two companions, sailed away into the 
unknown north, bound on their heroic but hopeless 
voyage, no grander enterprise is to be found in all the 
history of aeronautics. There was a strange coincidence 
in connection with the " Nassau Voyage," as this exploit 
was termed, which is little known, but which deserves 


Berkshire Village Fifty Years Ago 

to be recorded whenever the tale is told. The spot 
where the balloon touched earth was Weilburg, in the 
Duchy of Nassau. Now to this same spot had once 
come another balloon, famous in its day by reason of 
its belonging to M. Blanchard, earliest among professional 
aeronauts. This Blanchard, ascending from Frankfort 
only two years after balloons had been invented, made 
his descent close by Weilburg aforesaid ; and in com- 
memoration of the event the flag he bore was deposited 
among the archives in the ducal palace of that town. 
Fifty-one years passed by when, outside the same city, 
the yet more famous balloon effected its landing, and with 
due ceremony its flag was presently laid beside that of 
Blanchard in the same ducal palace. 

Now it may seem almost past credence that balloons, 
which follow no beaten tracks and are wafted far and 
wide simply by the wayward winds, should ever be found 
to single out the same spots of earth to fall in. Yet 
such has been the case on other occasions besides that 
just cited. The following example is equally authentic 
and remarkable. Some time in the 'twenties an aeronaut, 
by name Sadler, of whom these pages will have to make 
further mention, descended in a field near Milngavie, 
where a young man hurrying up rendered him assistance. 
It was a part of the country where balloons were unknown, 
and were scarcely likely ever to be seen again. How- 
ever, a whole generation elapsed, when the famous Mr. 
Coxwell, ascending from Glasgow, descended in the self- 
same field, and a man well on in middle life caught the 
rope of his balloon the identical man who rendered 
the same service to Mr. Sadler thirty years before ! 



"XT OT much remains to be added to this personal record 
1 ^ of Bacon's early days. A few loose threads may be 
gathered up, a few additional incidents recorded. Three 
events in particular, which belong to this time, merit 
reference, because they appealed, each in different fashion, 
strongly to the boyish mind, and were often alluded to 
in later years. 

One was the digging of the Great Well. Lambourn 
Woodlands stands high and exposed upon the confines 
of the wide chalk downs of North Berkshire, and, as was 
inevitable in such a spot, the water-supply was poor and 
insufficient. In summer time the streams were always 
dry, and quite a short spell of drought sufficed to drain 
the shallow springs and wells. At the Vicarage the 
nuisance grew insupportable, and it was resolved, at 
whatever cost, to dig down through the chalk until the 
deep waters were reached, even though this would entail 
a well of depth quite unknown in that part of the world. 

My grandfather had come recently from a curacy in 
the West Country, where, among the miners, the sinking 
of deep shafts was well understood. He did not realize 
when he entrusted the digging of his well to local workmen 
that he was giving them a task in which they would find 
themselves, very literally, beyond their depth. The 
result was nearly a tragedy. As they burrowed deeper 
and deeper into the ground a spot was reached where 


" The Child is Father of the Man " 

the air was no longer safe to breathe, and the order was 
given that fresh air must be pumped from above. But 
this instruction conveyed little meaning to rustic diggers, 
with whom such an expedient had never before been 
necessary. Elaborate apparatus was not at all to their 
liking or comprehension. No, they knew a trick worth 
two of that. " We'll take the beU'us down with us," 
said they and with an ordinary kitchen pair of bellows 
they descended the shaft and energetically blew the bad 
air into each other's lungs, with results that proved well- 
nigh fatal. 

After this little difficulty was got over the well grew 
deeper and deeper until it became the talk of the whole 
country-side. The Vicar himself descended one morning, 
sitting astride a stick like a workman, and not being used 
to the vitiated atmosphere below was drawn up again 
much the worse for his plucky adventure. At three 
hundred and fifteen feet abundant water-supply was 
found, pure and never-failing ; so that in dry summer 
months many beside the household had reason to bless 
the Vicarage well. Heavy gear was necessary to draw the 
buckets from so great a depth. Occasionally the chain 
would break, and then much ingenuity was needed to 
rescue it from the bottom where it had fallen. One of 
Bacon's earliest recollections was of such an occur- 
rence, and of watching his father stand, hour after hour, 
with specially invented grappling iron at the end of a 
rope, patiently and skilfully fishing for the bucket. 
Much excitement would ensue at anything like a "bite." 
" Henry " the daring would lean over the black gulf to 
quite an alarming extent in his efforts to peer below. 
Not unnaturally his extremely ancient and greasy hat 
fell down the well, and being of strong and tough material, 
impregnated the water-supply for many months to come. 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

Another unforgettable incident was the great thunder- 
storm, which occurred when Bacon was but a tiny boy. 
Mere baby as he was at the time, he remembered well 
that night of terror when, for hours, the thunder boomed 
on in one continuous rattle, and every second the land- 
scape leaped into view illumined by the vivid lightning. 
At last came one blinding, stupefying flash, coincident 
with a roar as if the heavens were falling. The Vicar 
thought of the spire of his new church, and was relieved 
indeed when the next flash revealed it yet standing. 
None of the neighbouring trees either seemed to have 
suffered, yet all were convinced the lightning had fallen 
in the immediate vicinity. Morning light revealed the 
mystery. In the field adjoining the Vicarage grounds 
a flock of fifty-two sheep had been feeding. When the 
storm arose they had huddled together in a corner, their 
wet fleeces all in close contact. There they yet lay 
when morning dawned, in easy lifelike postures, but 
strangely still and motionless. A shattered hurdle- 
stake was in their midst. The lightning had blasted 
it and passed from it through the entire flock. No wound 
or mark was visible upon any one of them, and yet not 
one was left alive. 

The third event, or rather events, of those early years, 
marked with a white stone for lifelong remembrance, 
were the three famous cricket matches of 1852 and two 
following years, when Hungerford, the tiny country town 
of some two thousand inhabitants which stood as the 
metropolis of that remote and primitive district, chal- 
lenged the All England eleven and beat them gloriously. 
At one of these matches at least, if not at more, the young 
Bacon was present. He wondered at the players, dig- 
nified and resplendent in white top hats with black 
bands at the great Alfred Mynn, a veritable giant 


" The Child is Father of the Man " 

among his colleagues ; at Box, faultless behind the 
wicket ; Clarke, the celebrated slow bowler ; the two 
Parrs ; Caffyn, Felix, and the rest of their illustrious 
compeers. Names to conjure with in those days, and 
still dear to many a heart that warms again over the 
echoes of long past victories. 

Oh ! the rapturous, delirious thrill of joy and triumph, 
almost painful in its extreme intensity, when these mighty 
heroes, demigods almost to the boyish mind, were over- 
thrown by the home team, by men of his own country-side, 
men of his actual acquaintance. It was probably at 
the last match that the youthful Bacon was present, and 
saw All England make 85 and 70, while Hungerford Park 
marked 162 and 185, really beating their adversaries in 
the first innings. Or it might have been the second 
match of the three, when All England made 54 in the 
first innings and the same number in the second, while Hun- 
gerford Park scored 78 and in the second innings 32 with 
seven wickets to fall. He would have been too young 
probably to take to a cricket match in 1852, though this 
was the year when Hungerford achieved their wildest 
triumph. The astonished spectators could scarcely 
believe their senses when, due in part to a violent thunder- 
storm which soaked the ground and made the ball hang, 
but more to the extremely good fielding of the home team, 
the great All England eleven were dismissed the first 
innings with eleven runs and one " wide." " It was a 
famous victory." 

And now what of the boy himself, the budding mind 
that looked out through wondering eyes on all this mar- 
vellous life, that garnered in all these crowding im- 
pressions and moulded them and was moulded by them, 
as the years unfolded and the world grew ever wider and 
wider ? There is a picture of him at about five years old, 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

drawn in soft pencil outline by his uncle a beautiful 
child face, solemn and intelligent, with parted cupid- 
bow lips and long eyelashes and curly hair. He was 
indeed a lovely child, and grew into a handsome boy ; 
the kind of boy that elder women rave over and pet and 
spoil only there were no women beside his mother to 
spoil Johnny, for he had no sisters and few friends, so 
that he saw little enough of ladies, and in consequence 
was shy and abashed in their presence. Another attrac- 
tion he possessed was a boy's voice of most unusual 
sweetness and purity. Once, as quite a little fellow, he 
accompanied his father on a rare visit to some friends at 
a distance, and on Sunday morning, in Romsey Abbey, 
he stood and sang, all unconsciously, beside another 
guest sharing the same pew Sir Frederick Ouseley. 
After the service was over the great man took the father 
aside, and then and there begged that he might have the 
boy who sang so sweetly to bring up and educate in his 
famous college of St. Michael, Tenbury, then just starting, 
and train him for the musical career for which he con- 
sidered him so specially fitted. 

But his father had other plans for him, and so Johnny 
stayed at home and was educated, first by his clever 
mother, then by successive curates who now assisted the 
Vicar of Woodlands in his parochial duties ; until at the age 
of twelve he was sent to the preparatory school of the Rev. 
Edwin Meyrick, Vicar of Chisledon, near Swindon the 
tutor already referred to in his own narrative, who played 
the practical joke upon the archaeological society. Two 
of his brothers; Maunsell and Hany, were then being 
educated at Marlborough. Perhaps the family finances 
did not allow of a third son being sent there, perhaps 
there were other reasons, but certain it is that the young- 
est boy was not allowed to follow their example. He 



Page 78 

" The Child is Father of the Man " 

never afterwards lamented the fact. That his opinion 
of the value of public-school education was not excessive 
is evidenced by his never having considered it necessary 
for his own son. Personally he did not hold he had lost 
much by being taught privately. It is probable that 
in some ways at least he gained a good deal. Edwin 
Meyrick instructed him in more than the " humanities." 
As has been related, Meyrick was a splendid " all- round " 
man, and next to his archery he was specially great in 
scientific and mechanical pursuits. In Johnny he found 
a pupil after his own heart deft-fingered, quick to learn, 
and eager to be instructed. Like a wise man, he allowed 
and encouraged the boy to share his hobbies ; and certain 
it is that the early lessons thus received in astronomy, 
carpentry, chemistry, firework making, bell-ringing, 
and what not, stood Bacon in greater stead all his life 
through than the merely scholastic education he was 
sent to Chisledon to acquire. 

One of his favourite pastimes at this epoch, reverted 
to in after years, was kite-flying. Many a time had he 
listened to his father's story of the man who, in his 
recollection, made a journey from London to Bath along 
the great high road, in a light vehicle propelled solely by 
kites, cunningly contrived and skilfully handled. This 
was no impossible feat, for down the valleys through 
which the Bath road runs for much of its way the east 
winds of spring blow with pitiless strength and persistency, 
as many a cyclist and motorist knows to his cost. Neither 
in those days were there the telegraph wires to negotiate, 
which would now form an insuperable bar to such a 
mode of locomotion. The only obstacle was at Hunger- 
ford, where the sign of the " Bear Inn " hung on a beam 
that stretched right across the road. Here the enter- 
prising driver was forced to cut his cable, but uniting 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

it again on the other side went merrily on his way without 
further let or hindrance. 

Johnny of course could not hope to emulate such a 
triumph, but he made the most of the small means at 
his, command. Tailless kites were not then known to 
English boys, only the unscientific toys of childhood, 
overweighted with clumsy laths and long fantastic tails. 
But after many experiments the lad, whose dreams were 
ever of sky-sailing, arrived at a form of small and very 
light craft, which when let up with some half-mile of 
tailor's pack thread would vanish out of sight against 
the sky. And then with what joy would he stand and 
hold the end of the string which disappeared into the blue, 
and feel his unseen kite strain and tug at its moorings, 
and dream long delicious dreams of the glorious realms 
of upper air where it was sporting dreams that another 
day were to be realized. 

Meyrick's tuition being outgrown, and the age of fifteen 
or so attained, there came the momentous question of a 
career in life. Bacon's second brother, Frank, whom he 
specially looked up to and emulated, had recently gone 
into the Marine Artillery. It seemed to him that a 
soldier's life was what he most desired, and in view of his 
mechanical bent, the Engineers or Royal Artillery for 
preference. Consequently, by the advice of friends, on 
leaving Chisledon he was sent, about the year 1860, to the 
Rev. W. H. Pritchett, an Army crammer at Old Charlton, 
near Woolwich. Pritchett . (he subsequently became 
Rector of St. Paul's, Charlton, and gave up scholastic 
work) was at this time a highly successful " coach," and 
had some fifty or more youths under his charge. He 
was a very clever man, a high Wrangler and Fellow of 
Corpus, Cambridge a fellowship he resigned to marry 
a beautiful and attractive wife. He was a great dis- 


" The Child is Father of the Man "' 

ciplinarian and a perfect martinet in his way, but he 
carried his Spartan principles almost too far. The pupils 
he had to deal with were of very mixed description. 
They were at a difficult age for school discipline. The 
neighbourhood was disorderly. Times were disturbed. 
A regular mutiny took place about this epoch at " The 
Shop," as the Woolwich Academy, where many old 
pupils then were and many more were bound, was called. 
Altogether it was a " rough " school, and a " rough " 
time. Among much that was good there was also not 
a little that was evil, and perhaps the recollection of this, 
in later years, served to prejudice Bacon's mind, possibly 
unduly, and made him determine that no child of his 
should be made to pass through a similar ordeal. 

The tuition indeed was all that could be desired, and 
Bacon made rapid progress. For a brief period during 
his Old Charlton days John Morley was classical master. 
Several of the teaching staff beside were specially able 
men. It needed a firm hand indeed to curb those un- 
ruly youths, and woe betide the unlucky master who 
failed to assert his authority. The spirit of mischief was 
rampant throughout the establishment, and the variety 
of pranks perpetrated was only equalled by their in- 

Bacon was nothing if not original and ingenious. 
Anything daring and unusual had the strongest attrac- 
tion for him all through life, and it was but natural he 
should become a ringleader of lawless deeds. He had 
two accomplices. One, a successful soldier, now the 
sole survivor, looks back with an indulgent smile upon 
his early misdeeds. The other was a young nobleman, 
Lord Francis Douglas, brother to the eighth Marquis 
of Queensberry. It added considerably to the unholy 
pleasure of these three young' scamps that their wicked- 
F 81 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

ness was quite unsuspected, and that they knew them- 
selves especially beloved by Pritchett as the best- behaved 
boys of his school, a pattern to their companions. This 
fact did not in the least deter them from climbing down 
from their bedroom windows night after night to let the 
pigs loose in the garden. This act not only entailed 
much damage to the cabbages, but caused the big watch- 
dog, chained on the other side of the house, to bark 
ceaselessly for hours a result greatly to be desired. In 
vain would the Head, whose rest was disturbed, lock and 
secure the door of the sty. The boys would climb inside 
and lift the pigs carefully over the fence, until the pigs 
grew so accustomed to the performance that they would 
offer no resistance whatever, and not even squeal. The 
culprits were undiscovered, and the matter remained 
a mystery to the end of the chapter. 

So did the strange behaviour of the schoolroom chimney. 
At certain intervals during the winter terms a brick 
would become dislodged from the top, and with infinite 
noise and disturbance (always at work time) come hurt- 
ling down the chimney, scattering the fire about the room, 
and bringing with it clouds of soot and dust. Of course 
the class had to be dismissed until order was restored, 
and then the bricklayer was sent for to make investiga- 
tion, but, curiously enough, never could find anything 
wrong. No one, save the accomplices, suspected the 
innocent-looking Bacon, who had climbed up on the roof 
in the dusk, balanced the brick with great skill, and then, 
with the aid of a black thread, completed the disaster. 

It was Bacon also, I understand, who discovered that 
by applying one's mouth to a certain gas-burner on an 
upper landing and blowing with all one's might, the gas 
in one of the classrooms could be extinguished, causing 
much confusion and smell, and an interruption of work, 


" The Child is Father of the Man ' 

which, with a little judicious mislaying of matches and 
so forth, might be indefinitely prolonged. Certainly it 
was Bacon who was responsible for the exploding of a 
" maroon " upon the roof, with consequences so serious 
that this time exposure and confession were necessary, 
and the three best boys were humiliated in the eyes of 
their sorrowfully indignant master. 

It is time I related something more to Bacon's credit. 
The following letter of his, written from Old Charlton, 
shows how an early taste was beginning to develop : 


" Without any definite object, and partly for want 
of anything else to do, I had the cheek and audacity, 
the other day, to write to a Mr. Ellacombe, a Rector in 
Devon, about ' Bell- ringing ' ! He wrote back to say 
that he was delighted to hear of any gentleman taking 
up the science. He referred me to a Mr. Bannister at 
Woolwich, who he said was about the finest ringer in 
all England, and he said it was possible that he might 
procure me some lessons. I was most delighted at this, 
and wrote off instanter. I this morning received the 
kindest note from him, saying that he could easily give 
me some lessons at some regular practisings, that there 
were no funds needed, and in fact it was evidently a 
great act of kindness on his part to give me some lessons, 
I suppose chiefly under his own guidance. But, worst of 
all luck, the hours of practice are 7 9 p.m. on Mondays. 
It is a great pity, as such another chance could never 
again be met with. I mean to call upon him and thank 
him for his great kindness ; but I must explain how 
matters stand. On Monday evenings I do Classics, and 
tho' doubtless I might write out the lesson beforehand, 
yet I am afraid Mr. Pritchett would never allow it. It 


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seems the most tantalizing thing just to fall short of 
gratuitous lessons by the best of all ringers so close at 
hand. I am quite ready and willing to work Monday 
afternoons or any amount of extra hours to make up for 
the little time I should lose. If I could only impress the 
matter upon Mr. Pritchett I might hope to turn out a 
hand that might astonish even the ringers of Wymondham. 
" Ever your most affectionate son, 


This letter had the natural and probably not unfore- 
seen result. The father wrote to the great Mr. Pritchett. 
The matter was arranged, and Bacon began his ringing 
lessons in Woolwich tower and learned the elements of 
a craft he turned to good account another day. The 
Rev. H. T. Ellacombe referred to was a famous antiquary, 
and the greatest authority on campanology of the day. 
Bacon kept up his correspondence with him, and some 
years later paid him a visit and stayed in his house. 
Ellacombe was then a very old man, and somewhat in- 
firm ; but to the very last (he lived to be ninety-five), 
however feeble under ordinary circumstances, yet take 
him to a church new to him, and he would scale the crazy 
belfry ladders that led up to his beloved bells with all 
the spirit and enthusiasm of a youth. 

Meantime a change had come over the family fortunes. 
My grandfather had now spent a quarter of a century 
buried in his remote Berkshire parish. In 1863 Lord 
Westbury, then Lord Chancellor, offered him the greatly 
superior Chancellor's living of Wymondham, in Leicester- 
shire, which he gladly accepted. Some talk there had 
been that the parish of Ham might be offered instead. 
John Bacon always declared that if such had been the 
case he should have had no alternative but to refuse, 


" The Child is Father of the Man ' 

since the combination of names of parson and parish 
would have been absolutely insupportable. 

The family were now in more affluent circumstances^ 
and the father was at last able to offer to the youngest 
son a privilege he had himself enjoyed, and knew well 
the value of a University education. Of late young 
Bacon had somewhat repented him of his early choice 
of a career. The wild life of many of his companions, 
the disordered state of Woolwich, which had recently 
been in open mutiny, had cooled his ardour for the Service. 
His talents and leanings were all academic, and he eagerly 
embraced the chance held out to him. Cambridge was 
his destination, of course, and it was at first supposed 
he would go to his father's old college of Corpus. In 
the interval a different course of training was necessary, 
and by the advice of Cambridge friends he went in 1864 
(being then nineteen) for a year's coaching to the Rev. 
Arthur Headlam, Vicar of Whorl ton- on-Tees, in the county 
of Durham. 

It was Bacon's first introduction to the North Country. 
No youth with even a grain of romance or imagination 
in his nature, who has been born and bred in the south, 
can fail to be impressed when first he finds himself on 
northern soil, beneath grey northern skies, amid bleak 
northern scenery, and amongst the strange-speaking 
north countrymen, blunt, outspoken, honest, " dark and 
true and tender," for all their rough and rugged exterior. 
Bacon was impressionable and imaginative to the back- 
bone, and the place where he found himself was one of 
the most lovely and romantic spots in all the north of 
England. Whorltori is a little village in Teesdale, some 
fourteen miles west of Darlington. From the high 
ground above, where runs the high road to Barnard 
Castle, the view stretches, far as eye can see, over the 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

wild Yorkshire moorland. Whorlton itself nestles at 
the foot of the hill, a few trim cottages, smithy and car- 
penter's shop, standing around the village green. Then 
beyond comes the modern-built church, and beside it 
the roomy, handsome, grey stone Vicarage. Cross a 
stile and traverse a grass field, bearing ever downhill, 
and you hear beneath you the roar of waters. Scramble 
down a steep wooded bank, carpeted with flowers in 
summer time, full of the song of birds, at every step 
growing more wildly lovely, until at the bottom the trees 
break, and Tees, in all his glory, lies sparkling at your 

And what a river ! Never before, till he came to 
Whorlton, had Bacon seen a northern stream. The 
slow, placid watercourses of the south, full to the brim 
and winding sluggishly through lush pastures, the Thames, 
the Kennet, and the little Lambourn, these were all his 
experience of what a river might be. What a revelation 
was the rushing, hurrying, whirling Tees, the enormously 
broad bed, the craggy overhanging banks, the rock- 
strewn course, the shoals of bright shingle, the deep pools, 
the islets and foamy waterfalls, the ceaseless chattering 
murmur of the swift pellucid stream. Then again the 
rapid rising flood, the wild tossing current of brown 
peaty water, the awful sudden onrush that swept all 
before it, and in a moment converted the half -dry bed 
into a dark, swirling, angry sea. How Bacon loved the 
Tees ! Many years afterwards he set his children to 
learn by heart Scott's description of the famous stream, 
or would read aloud to them (and no man could read 
poetry more beautifully or feelingly than he) long 
cantos of " Rokeby," with every scene of which he was 

In truth it was enchanted ground he trod in those few 


" The Child is Father of the Man " 

pleasant months in Teesdale : Rokeby, Mortham Towers, 
and ruined Egleston; grim Raby, haunted with its 
rustling silken skirts and Heaven knows what ghosts 
beside; Barnard Castle, with its grand ruin and bridge 
and memories of long-past fights, now recalled only by the 
children's shrill taunt 

Coward-a-coward o' Barnie Castle, 
Daren't come out and fight a battle ! 

Wycliffe, whence sprang the great reformer; romantic 
Deepdale; the heights of Stanmore ; the towers of Bowes ; 
while ever 

Brignal banks were wild and fair, 
And Greta words were green. 

At the Greta Inn, not far distant on the great coach 
road, Nicholas Nickleby spent the night ; and some 
seven miles off, on Bowes Moor, could be seen the very 
identical building of "Dotheboys Hall," of infamous 
renown. Some of the old inhabitants indeed remem- 
bered Squeers himself, and represented him not by 
any means as black as he was painted ; and were 
half inclined to pity him when, through the influence 
of Dickens's immortal book, his school came to an un- 
timely end. 

The Rev. Arthur Headlam was a Cambridge man, 
Wrangler and First Class in the Classical Tripos. The 
care of his three hundred parishioners did not absorb all 
his leisure or energies, and for many years he took pupils 
to coach for the University, three or four at a time. 
The villagers still have lively recollections of the " young 
gentlemen " whose youthful high spirits enlivened the 
quiet monotony of the place. Their favourite sport 
was fishing in the Tees but Bacon set a new fashion. 
Fishing was not in his line. Instead he sought out a 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

friendly mechanician in Barnard Castle, who initiated 
him into the mysteries of the lathe and the arts of the 
mechanical engineer. This was very characteristic of 
the lad, and it was also natural with him that he in- 
fected others with his own enthusiasm. Handicraft 
became quite the fashion at the Vicarage, and the 
other pupils left their fishing-rods to try their hands 
at manufacturing little boxes and wooden rollers and 
the like, with an ardour generally much in advance of 
their skill. 

Bacon was always a pioneer. The craze for physical 
training now possessed him. There was much bathing 
and swimming in the Tees, walking, running and jumping ; 
and he now proposed a course of " roughing it " by way 
of becoming hardened for manly exercise. In the study 
at Whorlton Vicarage were many rows of books placed 
on shelves of quite unusual massiveness and breadth. 
Bacon proposed to his chief ally, in pursuance of their 
Spartan training, that they should sleep upon these 
shelves instead of on their too luxurious beds ; and 
accordingly every night, when the household had 
retired, they stole downstairs, provided with blankets, 
and passed the night behind the books ; very un- 
comfortably in truth, but fortified by the conviction 
that they were doing something unusual and praise- 

My father was acknowledgedly Mr. Headlam's favourite 
pupil. He possessed more than the usual share of brains 
and intelligence, and he was moreover a hard worker 
and inspired with an ardent desire to learn. He planned 
for himself ambitious schemes for University success, 
as the following letter shows and when, throughout 
life, Bacon's ambitions failed of their attainment it was 
never through fault of his own. 


" The Child is Father of the Man " 


" I have spoken to Mr. Headlam at length, and 
asked his advice as to the choice of a college. 

" He says a large college like Trinity possesses a chief 
advantage over smaller ones in that there are such a 
number of first class men against one, and consequently 
more emulation and more encouragement to work. If 
you fell short of a fellowship at a small college you would 
not gain half the advantage from your college in after 
life as you would if you had been to Trinity and read 
your best. 

" All this, of course, you know, and he says it rests 
with you whether you think it best for me, with a mod- 
erate chance of a small fellowship, to risk the getting 
of it, or to go to Trinity and read for as high a place in 
Honours as possible. The former course would be the 
less expensive, and he gives me some hope of gaining a 
fellowship. In his own case he says that he probably 
would have gained a fellowship at a small college, but 
still he is glad he went to Trinity instead. Neither its 
scholarships nor fellowships require classics more than 
mathematics ; good men in either subject will gain them. 
Mathematics ought to be made my strongest subject, 
but I must keep up both. 

" I have heard from Mr. Ellacombe, who says he would 
introduce me to good ringers at Cambridge. I hope you 
are enjoying your trip to old Berkshire in spite of the 

" Ever your affectionate son, 


So Trinity it was settled to be, and Bacon set himself 
to his work with renewed vigour, and quickly distanced 
all his companions. That same spring, in vacation 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

time, Mr. Headlam took him with him on a holiday to 
Lakeland for it was a long journey home to Wymond- 
ham, and the tutor had become attached to his promising, 
lovable pupil. They stayed on Der went water, and 
that glorious scenery made an unforgettable impression 
upon the youth ; as it does on all who have eyes for the 
beautiful and poetic, and a heart in tune for a country 
in which so many of our wisest and best have found 
even after long travel amidst earth's fairest spots 
their truest solace and delight. 



Page 91 


BACON went up to Cambridge in October, 1865. Some 
three months before this an event had occurred which 
affected him, as was but natural, very deeply. This was 
the tragic death of the school fellow he had so lately 
parted with Lord Francis Douglas, killed on the Alps 
in the terrible accident which marred the triumph of 
the first ascent of the Matterhorn. 

Lord Francis had been Bacon's closest friend, accom- 
plice, and comrade during the whole time they had spent 
together at Old Charlton, and the dramatic story of his 
untimely end came as a tremendous shock. 

The fact that of the four victims of the disaster his 
body alone had never been recovered nor ever has been 
was an additional appeal to the imagination. Some 
only half- explained details unhappily found their way 
into the papers, giving rise to all sorts of wild, unfounded 
notions. Bacon was tortured with the idea of his late 
companion, caught up on some inaccessible ledge of 
rock on the face of that awful precipice, alive perhaps, 
but unable to make his position known ; and as he pic- 
tured the ghastly thought his mind would revert to his 
old dream of a balloon ; a balloon in which he could 
explore the rocky steep that by no other mortal means 
might be attained. 

But soon there came Cambridge to distract his thoughts 
Cambridge, the goal of his desires, the field of his am- 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

bitions, the arena of his labours ; Cambridge, which for 
ten long years was to be all in all to him. Cambridge, 
which was to be the scene of his proudest triumphs, his 
bitterest disappointments, his purest joys, his keenest 
griefs ; of love and birth and death, of hope and despair. 
He loved every stick and stone of the place he loved 
the atmosphere, he loved the life. Outside of his passion 
for the daring, the adventurous, the unusual, his nature 
was academic to the finger-tips. He was at his happiest 
and brightest among his University friends, he looked 
his best in cap and gown ; he walked his lightest and 
freest over the well-worn flags and between the grey 
walls of College courts. Had fates willed otherwise, and 
the early promise of his life been fulfilled, he might have 
spent his years and ended his days as the Cambridge Don 
he was, in many ways, so well fitted to be. In this walk 
of life, as in any other, he would have made his name and 
left his mark and done great work. And yet perhaps 
there is small reason to regret that such was not his 
destiny. The academic world has its limitations, and 
maybe somewhat narrow ones. Its placid, happy life, 
be it never so useful and dignified, is apt to run in grooves. 
It may even be doubted whether the elderly professor, 
for all that his forehead is lofty and his brows are noble, 
is yet the grandest development of the human race 
whether his sympathies are quite so broad, his outlook 
quite so wide, his share in the pleasures and toils of life 
quite so large, as if the boundaries of college walls were 
not so greatly the boundaries of his own existence. 

When Bacon first went up to Cambridge, Trinity was 
presided over by that wonderful man, that intellectual 
giant, that acme, epitome, and highest consummation of 
academic life, William Whewell. A freshman at Trinity 
has little enough to do with the august tenant of the 


Alma Mater 

Master's Lodge yet WhewelPs mighty presence made 
itself felt even to the meanest servant of the College. 
Bacon saw the massive form lately bowed by grief for 
the loss of his second wife, slowly pace the great court. 
He saw the noble head above the Master's stall in chapel ; 
and he felt, as did the whole world, how grandly Whewell 
sustained the traditions of the stately college ; how 
fittingly he stood as figurehead of the proud establish- 
ment ; how much he owed to Trinity, and how much 
Trinity owed to him. 

Whewell preached his last sermon in Trinity chapel 
on Quinquagesima Sunday of Bacon's first Lent term. 
Prophetically enough, he drew his text from Revelations 
and spoke of the end of the world. Bacon, who had 
ever the keenest appreciation of choice diction and fine 
word-painting, must have thrilled as he heard the great 
scholar, in measured periods, describe the last dread 
scene, and picture : " No mountains sinking under the 
decrepitude of years, or weary rivers ceasing to rejoice 
in their courses. No placid euthanasia silently leading 
on the desolation of the natural world. But the trumpet 
shall sound, the struggle shall come ! This godly frame 
of things shall expire amid the throes and agonies of some 
fierce and hidden catastrophe. And the same arm that 
plucked the elements from the dark and troubled slum- 
bers of their chaos shall cast them into their tomb." 

There was no trace of failing powers in a mind that 
could string sounding phrases like these. It was re- 
marked on all hands with pride and delight that the 
Master was regaining his old vigour, temporarily crushed 
under his late sorrow. Moreover he had become gentler, 
more approachable, more human, more lovable, since 
his loss and grief. The whole college warmed to him as 
never before, and rejoiced to see the cloud lifting and his 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

interest in outside things revive. He was but seventy- 
two. There were surely many useful years yet before 

And then, all in a few days, the end came. On the 
afternoon of February 24th, it was rumoured round the 
college that a serious accident had befallen the Master ; 
that he had been thrown from his horse, riding on the 
Gog-Magog hills ; that even now he was being borne, 
grievously shattered, to the Lodge. There followed a 
few days of sorrowful suspense, when footfalls went 
softly upon the flagstones and voices were hushed. A 
strange awed feeling was upon all that youthful throng 
which seethed, a tide of young life, about the grey walls 
of the old college, when it was known that their great 
Head was passing from them. There was a tightening 
of heart-strings and a dimming of vision, as the pathetic 
story was told of how the dying man had asked for the 
curtains of his window to be drawn aside that he might 
once more see the sun shining on the Great Court, and 
the blue sky, which he had ever declared was never so 
blue as when glimpsed above the pinnacles of Trinity. 
Then came the peaceful death, and a great shadow seemed 
to fall across the college, and the blank void of an irre- 
parable loss. 

The Sunday after the burial was one never to be for- 
gotten : The scene in the chapel, so familiar and yet so 
strangely, indefinably, different ; the mellowed light 
pouring down from lofty windows, the crowded benches 
of white-surpliced youths, their overflowing spirits for 
once awed and sobered ; the organ's funeral chords, the 
empty Master's stall. In a voice vibrant with emotion* 
Lightfoot, afterwards the great Bishop of Durham, paid 
his last tribute to the mighty dead : " Our grand old 
Master our pride and strength ! Our own always, not 


Alma Mater 

in his triumphs only, but in his sorrows also. . . . He has 
gone from us, leaving as a legacy his name and munifi- 
cence. He has bequeathed to us his bright example. 
His race is run his torch has passed into our hands full 
burning, to keep ablaze or to quench as we will." And 
then, by way of peroration, the strong appeal from that 
great ensample to the young life before him ; the im- 
passioned call to follow in the footsteps of him who had 
gone before " resolving, as far as in us lies, to make 
this college a holy temple of His spirit, in all sound learn- 
ing and all godly living." 

What lad, young, ardent, high-spirited, as Bacon was, 
could fail to be stirred to the depths of his being by such 
a scene, and by such words ? And then, the service over, 
he was to hear those sounds, the solemnest, the most 
heart-thrilling in all the world, the tones of a muffled 
peal. The twelve beautiful bells of St. Mary's rang a 
requiem that day as is rung only when the greatest pass 
away. First, a brief peal with both sides of the clappers 
muffled, terminating abruptly with all the bells " upset." 
Then the muffling of one side of each clapper is removed, 
and the ringing recommenced as is described in Bacon's 
own words recording the event : 

" First all the twelve bells speaking freely were an- 
swered immediately by the ghosts of their own selves 
by that indescribable far-off sound, weird and solemn, 
seemingly coming out of another world. Irresistibly 
the listener would pause and count out the twelve strokes, 
alternately full and hushed, and presently he counts but 
eleven ; the treble bell apparently missing ; and before 
he has well assured himself of this the next in order is 
silent too, and now but ten are speaking in the place of 
twelve. So one by one the higher bells in order drop out, 
while those of heavier metal strike on ; but more leisurely, 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

widening out their intervals so as to count out, with 
equal strokes, the invariable length of each bar of the 
solemn music as marked by the stately swing of the 
tenor ; and in this impressive manner each bell in dying 
leaves the survivors filling the gap with more and more 
measured utterance. Presently but two are speaking, 
answering one another with long resounding beats. 
Finally the great tenor swings on a few strokes alone, 
its deep funereal, muffled voice ending the long-drawn 

Our hero knew well all about these same fine bells, and 
described them as an expert. Mr. Ellacombe had been 
as good as his word. The introduction to the Cambridge 
ringers had been given, and Bacon had enrolled himself 
a member of that famous campanological association 
" The Ancient Society of College Youths." The written 
and unwritten lore of the belfry was expounded to him. 
The mysteries of change ringing had already been ac- 
quired ; the intricacies of " Evening Pleasure " and 
" Triple Bob Major," the cabalistic passwords of 
" single," " caters," " tittums," and the like, no longer 
presented any difficulties. To ring up the great tenor 
of St. Mary's was a favourite exercise of his and a highly 
esteemed privilege. By way of other recreation he took 
up rowing, and sported the dark blue blazer of the First 
Trinity Boat Club. But it was at the gymnasium he 
chiefly distinguished himself. Under the skilful training 
of George Jackson the original, by the way as he was 
proud enough himself to testify, of " Mr. George " in 
Dickens 's " Bleak House " Bacon developed into a 
first-class gymnast. 

His favourite exercises were with the flying trapeze, 
and he gave exhibitions of his skill in this direction at 
village entertainments at home until his mother's blood 


Alma Mater 

ran cold with horror at his daring. He was an adept with 
the leaping pole, he had won prizes for throwing the 
cricket ball, he loved swimming and diving, riding and 
skating, and all physical exercises. In those days he was 
muscularly of great strength, short of stature, but lithe 
and active as a cat. The breakdown of his health, which 
befell him while he was yet in full youth and vigour, put 
a summary end to all his athletic pursuits ; but he 
felt to his dying day the value of his early training. 
Handicapped as he became, his activity never forsook 
him. He could vault a gate, or turn a somersault from 
one chair to another, at an age when most men have left 
such youthful frivolities a good fifteen or even twenty 
years behind them. To the very end of his life he could 
climb a tree, or scramble up ratlins, or mount a crazy 
ladder in a way that would put to shame many a youth 
but a third of his age and he delighted not a little in 
doing so. In his aeronautical adventures in particular 
his active powers stood him especially in good stead. 
When my father first went up to Trinity he was, for 
some time, an " out college " man. At the beginning 
of his second October term, however, he was most un- 
expectedly offered a set of rooms in the Old Court. They 
had been hurriedly vacated by a man of uncertain health 
and nervous temperament, who had suddenly left them 
and gone into lodgings, assigning no satisfactory reason 
for his change. Bacon took the rooms, but not before 
he had received a solemn warning against them from the 
bedmaker, who, with an ominous shake of her head, 
characterized them as " dreadful dismal." This was 
mysterious, but the reason presently developed. With 
gloomy November came wild and howling winds, and, 
sitting up late over his books, Bacon heard the quiet room 
filled with low, wailing, unearthly moans, as of a haunting 
G 97 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

spirit in agony, or some dark tragedy taking place in 
the lane outside. This happened night after night, nor 
was any explanation forthcoming until, after much search, 
my father, who was not troubled with superstitious fears, 
discovered it. In the " Gyp room " a piece of wall paper, 
pasted across a chink, had developed a crack, leaving 
two jagged edges which, under certain conditions of 
draught, vibrated together like a reed, and produced the 
noise described. A touch with the paste-brush speedily 
silenced the spectre, nor was this the only ghost that 
Bacon, in later days, was to help to lay. 

Bacon's rooms at Trinity were in the south-eastern 
corner of the Old Court. They were on the ground floor, 
a fact which has its drawbacks to a reading man, since 
it renders him more liable to interruption, but which 
also possesses some advantages of its own, as the following 
instance illustrates. A few staircases off, on an upper 
floor, " kept " a studious friend of my father's, who passed 
long hours there in study, always seated with his feet 
upon a large footstool. This might appear, at first sight, 
somewhat curious behaviour on the part of a strong and 
active youth, known to be keenly averse to all forms of 
" coddling." His " old-maidish fad " however admitted 
of quite reasonable explanation. Directly below him 
were the rooms of a light-hearted friend, keenly addicted 
to the art of fencing, which he practised at all hours of 
the day and not a few of the night. Careful experiment 
had taught this playful youth that he could readily in- 
sert the point of his foil through the plaster of the ceiling, 
and between the wide cracks in the ancient floor above, 
and thereby prick the toes of the tiresomely conscientious 
comrade " mugging " aloft. This interesting employ- 
ment appealed to him very strongly, and so assiduously 
did he work at it that soon his ceiling was pitted all over 


Alma Mater 

with holes, and the victim's step across the room above 
was sufficient signal for the sword-point to come pricking 
up between the boards like the quick tongue of a serpent. 
In vain would the student change the position of his 
reading chair. His tormentor would as surely find him 
out, and only by the aid of an unusually solid foot- 
stool was the difficulty obviated and reading rendered 

There were troublous times at Cambridge just then. 
A highly unpopular Vice-Chancellor was in power, and 
as a consequence something like active rebellion broke 
forth among the undergraduates. The men grew out of 
hand, and all sorts of lawless acts were perpetrated. One 
night the tremendously massive iron-studded gates of 
Christ's College, of terrific weight, were bodily removed 
from their hinges and thrown into the river. It was the 
wonder of all how they could ever have been carried so 
far. Other outrages were perpetrated, and there came 
the order that the undergraduates were to be excluded 
from the gallery of the Senate House on the day of grant- 
ing degrees. It is their immemorial privilege to be pre- 
sent on this occasion, and to exercise their wit in pertinent 
(and impertinent) personal remarks on the appearance, 
character, and so forth of those taking part in the ceremony 
beneath. A " row " was of course anticipated, and 
Bacon went to see the fun. Being early, he obtained 
a coign of vantage at the top of the flight of stone steps 
which lead up to the side door of the Senate House 
opening upon King's Parade. A dense mass of men 
formed up behind him. At the stroke of the hour when 
admittance is generally given there came a sudden rush. 
Bacon was next the door, and for a moment it seemed to 
him as if his ribs would burst and the life be crushed out 
of him. It would surely have been so, had not the solid 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

wooden panels given way like matchwood and precipi- 
tated him among the foremost into the building. There 
followed a wild scene as the infuriated undergraduates 
surged in. The Chancellor's robes were torn to frag- 
ments, the furniture was broken, and degrees were granted 
amid a scene of noise and uproar unequalled in the annals 
of the University. 

Bacon's home now, the home to which he returned in 
the vacations, was Wymondham, in Leicestershire, near 
Melton Mowbray, a place which spells its name the same 
as, but pronounces it quite differently from, the larger 
Wymondham in Norfolk. The Rectory there is a roomy 
comfortable house, built by a former incumbent, one 
Craig, of whom many stories are told. Although dead 
many years, he had left many tokens of his presence 
about the place, for of his ingenious but eccentric fads 
and crazes there appear to have been no end. One brilliant 
idea of his was to make one fire warm two rooms. He 
had a grate constructed, on his own designs, of course, 
which went on sliding bars through the wall, and when 
he had been sufficiently long in one room and wished to 
retire to the next he would simply shoot it through, fire 
and all, so that it greeted his arrival in the adjoining 
apartment. Later tenants removed this economical 
invention, though its traces could still be seen. It was 
otherwise with another product of his fertile brain, which 
in Bacon's time still ornamented the back door. This 
was a dodge for the frightening of tramps and the spying 
out of undesirable visitors. It took the form of a gro- 
tesque and hideous face, let into the wood, with holes 
where the eyes should have been. In these holes the 
Rector, stealing noiselessly to the door from within, 
would suddenly place his own eyes. The result was 
decidedly terrifying, and the tramps, it is said, would 


Alma Mater 

beat a hasty retreat with shattered nerves and much 
bad language. 

One Christmas vacation it chanced that Jack was 
the only son at home. It was seasonable weather and 
snow lay thick on the ground, when, in the middle of one 
bitterly cold night, he was awakened by the furious bark- 
ing of the big dog tied up in the yard. This was no unusual 
event when the moon shone brightly in a frosty sky, and 
none of the servants sleeping at the back of the house 
were disturbed. Something unusual, however, in the note 
of the dog's bark excited my father. He slipped out of 
bed, and as he opened the door an unwonted light warned 
him of what was amiss. The outbuildings and back 
premises were on fire, and the flames, spreading rapidly, 
were threatening the house and creeping round to the 
spot where at the extreme limit of his chain the poor 
dog was giving ceaseless warning of the danger. 

The household was instantly roused and a messenger 
sent up to the village for help, which quickly arrived. 
Men with buckets swarmed to the rescue, but most of 
the water had turned to ice. The little stream which 
ran through the garden was soon exhausted, and it seemed 
as if the house was doomed. The maidservants were 
sent upstairs to bring down the objects of most value 
they could lay their hands on. They went and returned 
triumphantly, one bearing a hat box and the other a 
three -railed towel-horse. Nor let them be unduly 
blamed. All sense of the relative worth of movables 
seems to disappear in a fire. During the recent burning 
of a great Scotch house, crammed with priceless treasures, 
a party of soldiers from the neighbouring barracks were 
told off to assist in the salving ; and while some hurled 
crockery, wardrobes, and dressing tables from upper 
windows, others, at great personal risk, rescued a very 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

massive cast-iron door-scraper and bore it carefully to 
a place of safety. Jack performed prodigies of strength 
in carrying heavy furniture, but in the end the house 
was spared. When matters looked most desperate, 
some one suggested the happy expedient of piling snow 
upon the flames. A maltster's was near at hand ; and the 
huge wooden shovels used for shifting the malt were 
commandeered. With these the snow, which lay thick 
around, was flung up on the top of the burning beams, not 
otherwise to be reached, and so the fire (which had origin- 
ated from the incautious throwing of hot cinders into a 
wooden shed) was extinguished before it reached the 
house, though the outbuildings were entirely destroyed. 
" Sambo," by whose agency the household was preserved, 
wore a medal for the rest of his days. 

It was during a certain Long Vacation spent at Cam- 
bridge that Bacon witnessed a sight which he never forgot 
as long as he lived, and which, for many years after, 
constantly recurred to his memory. This was a balloon 
ascent, the first he had ever seen. 

In truth there is something not a little stirring and 
impressive about such a spectacle. The shapely, graceful, 
silken craft, towering up into the sky ; the straining 
ropes ; the creaking wicker-work as the car is attached ; 
the struggling crowd ; the sharp words of command 
while the monster tugs and pulls at her moorings, im- 
patient to be free. Then the last bags of restraining 
ballast are handed out, the last farewells spoken, the 
final order given, " Let go all ! " and, amid ringing 
cheers, the great balloon glides upwards into the air, 
silently, smoothly, swiftly, with infinite grace and dignity, 
higher and higher, floating far and farther into the blue 
until it melts in distance a drop against the sky. This 
particular ascent took place from Downing grounds, and 


Alma Mater 

the balloon fouled a tree to begin with and broke off a 
great branch of elm entangled in the rigging, through 
the leafy barrier of which the aeronaut waved a graceful 
farewell as he rose. " I don't think I ever quite re- 
covered the mental bias that this ascent gave me," wrote 
Bacon many years afterwards. " I dreamed of balloons 
in happy nightmares for long days to come, and when- 
ever I allowed myself to speculate on some possible 
excursion which should be out of the common, somehow 
the idea of a balloon would always intrude itself." 

Henceforward there was ever present at the back of 
his mind the resolution to make, one day, a balloon 
ascent himself. But for the present, and for many a year 
to come, he had other things to think about. Long 
hours of night reading by the light of an inefficient lamp 
began to tell upon his sight. Presently his eyes broke 
down altogether, under the strain, and for months he 
was tortured by that most dread spectre that can well 
haunt a man the fear of blindness. Work had perforce 
to be abandoned, just at the most critical point, and his 
time at the University was extended by another year, 
in the hope that matters might improve before his final 
examination for the Mathematical Tripos. 

Then came other distractions. Almost the first ac- 
quaintances he had made upon his arrival at Cambridge 
were a pair of brothers, sons of the Rev. C. J. Myers, of 
Flintham Vicarage, Nottingham, then an elderly clergy- 
man passing a quiet life in his college living, or on his 
own Cumberland estate ; but in his younger days a man 
of great attainments, a scholar of Trinity, and fifth Wran- 
gler the year his friend Airy was Senior. The younger 
of these two sons, Fred, a brilliant youth whose early 
death cut short a career of unusual promise, was Bacon's 
especial and dearly loved companion, and closest of his 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

Cambridge friends. The Myers family was a large one, 
and from time to time one or more of the handsome 
sisters would come to visit their brothers and share in 
the gaieties of May Week, or other festivities. Particu- 
larly came Gertrude, the youngest, a pretty girl with 
big, soft, brown eyes, a bright, vivacious manner, and a 
happy nature, the placid sweetness of which no storms 
could ever ruffle. Bacon went to stay with his friends 
at Flintham ; Fred Myers in return brought his favourite 
sister to Wymondham ; and she recorded in her school- 
girl diary (she was but nineteen), that " Mr. John Bacon 
was most polite during our visit." More meetings ensued, 
and then the inevitable occurred. In September, 1869, 
they became engaged, she being then twenty and he three 
years older. 

A long engagement seemed before them. Bacon was 
destined for the Church whither the University life 
then so largely tended. He was also minded to try 
coaching work as soon as he had taken a degree. Any- 
way, it might probably be some time before he could 
support a wife. The lovers were supremely happy in 
each other, but clouds were on the horizon. They shared 
one fear in common. Mr. Myers had suffered a paralytic 
stroke, and was failing visibly; while John Bacon, the 
dearly loved, indulgent father, to whom his four sons 
looked up with almost adoring reverence, was attacked 
by a lingering and most painful malady, the end of which 
was inevitable. John was ever his father's most tender, 
devoted and indefatigable nurse, and the father's last 
months were brightened by his son's successes. In 
April, 1869, he gained a Trinity Foundation Scholarship. 
Sundry lesser laurels fell also to his share. He won an 
essay prize, and his college prize for reading in chapel. 
But his crowning honour the place for which he had 


Alma Mater 

worked so hard and longed so fervently was denied him. 
He had hoped for high rank among the Wranglers, and 
those who saw his work and were best competent to judge 
had confidently predicted it for him. The results of a 
tripos can be fairly well foretold by those " in the know," 
and a place among the first ten was spoken of on best 
authority. But the eye trouble was still present, even 
at the end of the additional year. The oculist per- 
emptorily forbade the reading that would be inevitable, 
and the deeply disappointed Bacon must perforce be 
content with an cegrotat degree. This maimed honour 
he took in January, 1870, and being, as it were, 
a class to himself, and going up last for the Chancellor's 
"laying on of hands," at the ceremony in the Senate House, 
the " gods " in the gallery not unnaturally mistook him 
for " Wooden Spoon," and cheered him accordingly. 

But if his labours and talents did not receive the hall- 
mark they merited, they were none the less understood 
and acknowledged by his Cambridge contemporaries. 
Immediately after taking his degree he posted the usual 
notice in the " Union " that he was desirous of obtaining 
University pupils. In response came thirty pupils the 
first term, an unprecedented success. Elated and en- 
couraged, Bacon now embarked on a bold step. Maunsell, 
his eldest brother, seven years his senior, had some while 
before entered the Civil Service and become a clerk in 
the War Office. He had also married and children were 
born to him. But promotion in his profession, if sure, 
was desperately slow. The daily round of trivial time- 
wasting in that palace of red tape where he worked was 
growing intolerably irksome to him, and his health was 
suffering by the confinement of town life. His younger 
brother wrote to him ardently and affectionately. " Give 
up the War Office," he said. " Leave London and come 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

up to Cambridge. Enter one of the colleges as a non- 
resident, take your degree and go into the Church. 
Meantime, to keep the pot boiling, share my pupils with 
me. We will go into partnership in coaching. You 
shall take the classical part and I the mathematical, 
and together we will make a success of it." 

It was a daring move for this youth of twenty-three to 
take upon himself the responsibility of his brother and 
his brother's family in this fashion. But the elder man 
had every confidence in the younger 's judgment and 
energy, and the event proved that he was right. He 
took a house in Cambridge, entered Sidney-Sussex, read 
for a " pass " degree, and meanwhile worked hard with 
the pupils who came every term in increasing numbers. 

The partnership proved the most triumphant success. 
The Bacon brothers were " poll " coaches, that is to say 
they catered for the " poll " or " pass " men who were 
content to get through the University with the minimum 
amount of work, and scrape through a degree with the least 
margin to spare, rather than read for " honours " and take 
rank in a tripos. Nor let it be for a moment supposed 
that the work of their tuition demanded less skill or care 
than if they had all been budding Senior Wranglers or 
Double Firsts. Speaking generally (for of course there 
are many exceptions), the man who is content with a 
" poll " degree is pretty certain to be lacking either in 
industry or brains or both and it is a truism that it 
requires a wise man to teach a fool. The Bacons soon 
acquired a reputation for steering even the stupidest 
and idlest of their pupils (and some were very stupid 
indeed) through the quicksands of the dread examina- 
tions. They had recourse to all sorts of devices to arrest 
the roving fancy and spur the feeble memory. Fpr 
example, there was that renowned quagmire, " Paley's 


Alma Mater 

Evidences," which has engulfed so many a weak-kneed 
Cambridge pilgrim to his destruction. The elder brother, 
who was, and is, a talented versifier of the Gilbertian 
order, sat up all one night condensing the heads of the 
learned divine's immortal discourse (how the wan 
spectre of Paley must have shuddered at the sacrilege !) 
into rhymes that were adapted to the popular tunes of 
the day then most in vogue in undergraduate circles. 
John Bacon possessed a lithographic stone and printing 
apparatus, which were quickly got to work, and before 
twenty-four hours had elapsed printed sheets of the 
doggerel, music and all, were distributed broadcast, and 
soon, all over the town, pianos were tinkling, and lusty 
young voices chanting these novel but improving ditties. 
For a long while the immensely popular and much sought 
after verses were circulated among the Bacon pupils 
only. Later on a few of them were incorporated in a 
work published by a friend, and which, under the title 
of " Paley's Ghost," is still on sale at Cambridge. 

John M. Bacon in those days made much use of his 
lithographic press. He was not without his share of 
the family artistic skill. He etched most delicately, and 
his lettering, when he pleased, was a triumph of design 
and execution. He delighted to produce dainty and 
fanciful programmes, book-plates, and the like. He 
photographed also at a time when photography was a 
real art, demanding much manual skill and beset with 
difficulties that the dilettante amateurs of the present day, 
who imagine that because they press a button or turn 
a handle they can style themselves photographers, 
could never even realize. He possessed too, by this 
time, a splendid baritone voice, and took up singing with 
his customary energy and thoroughness. The multitude 
and all-embracing variety of Bacon's hobbies, then as in 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

later years, may be gathered from a spirited sketch of 
the time by his brother Maunsell, entitled " The last 
neat thing in Cantab. Freshmen." A heavily and most 
miscellaneously laden railway porter inquires of an 
undergraduate (presumably John) in cap and gown, and 
carrying a pair of handbells " Any other luggage, 
sir ? " C.F. : " Yes. You will find in the van an electric 
machine, a galvanic battery, a lathe, a canister of gun- 
powder, a photographic apparatus, a horizontal bar, a 
coil of rope, and two iron rings ; and then there is this 
little pair of dumb-bells behind me. Bring them up to 
my rooms at once." Exit porter for a " Memoria Tech- 

His degree taken, Bacon began reading for Ordination. 
He was ordained Deacon on Trinity Sunday, 1870, in 
Ely Cathedral, by Bishop Harold Browne, and next day 
he wrote to his Gertrude : " The Ordination was the 
most impressive and admirably conducted service you 
can imagine. The whole ceremony was worthy of being 
held in that magnificent Cathedral. Perhaps nothing 
was more impressive than the fine manly voice and deli- 
very of the Bishop I love so much. I am quite unable 
to describe my admiration for that man. His manner, 
which is so marvellously winning, is so thoroughly sincere. 
No one has ever met with greater hospitality or more 
generous kindness than all of us did at the Palace." 

A fortnight later he preached his first sermon in Wy- 
mondham church, but his father was too ill to be present. 
As it was not his intention to leave Cambridge he was 
licensed as Curate to Harston, a little parish some four 
miles out of the town a mere formality, for he received 
no stipend and began Sunday duty there during the 
summer. Beside the pupils he shared with his brother, 
he coached " honours " men as well by himself, and 


Alma Mater 

among his earliest were two half-brothers of the late 
Marquis of Salisbury, Lords Arthur and Lionel Cecil. 
They were known as the Twins though not so in reality 
but they were inseparable in all things, especially in 
their pursuits, which were inclined to be of a Spartan 
nature. They bathed together in the Cam every morning 
before breakfast, and in winter time sent their " gyp " 
before them to break the ice. Philip Beresford-Hope, 
their connection, was also a pupil, and so was another 
relative, Francis Balfour, brother of Arthur J. of that 
ilk, and of whom more anon. In addition to his other 
work, and as an aid to his teaching labours, Bacon 
brought out this autumn two little books, " Hints on 
Elementary Statics " and " Notes on the Acts," followed 
later by other works of the same description, written 
either by himself or in conjunction with his brother, 
some of which are still in print and find sale at Cambridge 
as singularly clear and lucidly expressed primers for 
undergraduate needs. 

Mr. Myers died in November, 1870, and John Bacon 
in the March following. His son felt his loss most keenly, 
but at the time there were other matters to distract his 
mind. His own marriage was near at hand. On April 
nth, 1871, the wedding took place at the parish church 
of Millom, in Cumberland, and after a short honeymoon 
spent in Edinburgh (where it rained ceaselessly the 
whole while) the young pair settled down in the comfort- 
able little Cambridge house 12, Park Side, looking out 
upon Parker's Piece, which for the next five years was 
to be their home. 



AND now it were high time to mention certain of 
the friends and acquaintances who belong to these 
Cambridge days, and to recall a few of the great names 
which cluster around ten years of University life. When 
Bacon first went up to college in 1865, and for several 
years later, the venerable, benevolent head of Adam 
Sedgwick looked out over his stall in Trinity Chapel, 
and the octogenarian Woodwardian Professor still de- 
livered his courses of lectures now reaching into the 
fifties with unabated power and enthusiasm, and re- 
iterated his solemn warnings against what he maintained 
to be the mistaken and materialistic doctrines of Darwin's 
" Descent of Man." Darwin's two sons, George Howard 
and Francis, by the way, were Bacon's contemporaries 
at Trinity. One summer day one of the brothers, now 
the Professor, was cruising slowly up the Backs, sitting 
in the stern of one of those frail walnut-shell shaped 
" tubs " which on warm afternoons skim thick as mayfly 
upon the placid stream, his coat-tail well overlapping the 
low gunwale. " Hi ! Darwin, your tail's in the water ! " 
shouted a quick-witted undergraduate from a passing 
boat. A roar of laughter rose up from the banks, and the 
apposite remark went the round of the University. 

A. J. Balfour, W. H. M. Christie (the present Astrono- 
mer Royal), Arnold Morley and his brothers, A. F. Kirk- 
patrick (Master of Selwyn), C. V. Stanford ; Maurice, son of 


Sorrow and Disappointment 

Charles Kingsley ; Hallam, son of Lord Tennyson : these 
are a few of the names which catch the eye in looking down 
the long lists of men whose days of undergraduate life 
coincided more or less with my father's, and with most 
of whom he came more or less into contact. Among 
the Dons were two successive Bishops of Durham Light- 
foot, Hulsean Professor of Divinity, and Westcott, 
Regius Professor. H. Fawcett was the Professor of 
Political Economy; Charles Kingsley, of Modern History; 
W. Sterndale Bennett, of Music. Adams, discoverer of 
Neptune, and Challis, who scarcely assisted in that dis- 
covery, were the two Astronomical Professors; Cayley 
and G. G. Stokes the Mathematical. 

But three or four men, who were Bacon's own intimate 
friends, must receive special notice. First and foremost 
was that wonderful mind, that splendid genius, quenched 
by early death in the first brightness of its dawn, William 
Kingdon Clifford. Clifford was two years Bacon's senior 
at Trinity (he was Second Wrangler and Second Smith's 
Prizeman in 1867, an ^ became a Fellow the subsequent 
year), but it was hardly possible that two men whose 
tastes and natural bent were so identical should fail to 
gravitate together. Their hobbies coincided exactly. 
Clifford was fond of handicraft and mechanical invention. 
He took up scientific kite-flying. He was keenly inter- 
ested in aerial research, and even harboured ideas of the 
construction of a flying machine. He was a magnificent 
gymnast, and was prouder of his reputation as an athlete 
than even of his academic distinctions. In comparing 
the lives of the two men the points of resemblance are 
so many as to be quite curious. Both went on Eclipse 
expeditions (Clifford observed in the Mediterranean 
the total solar eclipse of 1870) ; both were unusually 
talented at public lecturing ; they were brother enthu- 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

siasts'even over such minor matters as shorthand and 
Morse code. These facts, of course, are pure coincidence, 
yet they serve to explain how readily Bacon fell under 
the spell of Clifford's influence and wonderful personal 
attraction, how ardently he admired him, how keenly 
he valued his friendship. Nothing delighted Clifford 
so much in his Cambridge days as congenial discussion. 
His boundless range of sympathy and interest, his ex- 
treme openness and candour, his wonderful quickness of 
perception and lucidness of expression, his keen sense 
of the ridiculous and his unfailing tact, made him an 
altogether exceptional conversationalist. He would con- 
stantly sit up most of the night, talking with a chosen 
few " solving the Universe " as he expressed it, and 
every conceivable subject, under every conceivable 
point of view, would come under discussion. He main- 
tained as one of his most firmly held convictions that 
metaphysical and theological problems should be dis- 
cussed with exactly the same freedom and fearlessness 
as scientific or political questions ; and he himself would 
suffer the yoke of no conventions in formulating his 
opinions. This was in the days ere yet the narrow bounds 
of authority had been aught relaxed, and the teachings 
of Darwin, Spencer,, and other pioneers had come upon 
the world with the added shock of novelty. It was in 
Clifford's rooms that Bacon first heard the clash of arms 
in the mighty warfare of Church and Science, became 
aware in fact that such a warfare was possible, and here 
again Clifford's influence made itself felt and bore its 
fruit in due season. 

And so Bacon was admitted to the intimacy, and sat 
at the feet of, the greatest man of all his Cambridge con- 
temporaries. They shared a great friend in common 
in the person of George Robert Crotch, the naturalist ; 


Sorrow and Disappointment 

formerly Under Librarian at the University Library, 
and at the time of his death travelling, at the expense of 
the University, on an entomological survey of remote 
parts of the world. As in the case of Clifford, an untimely 
end cut short a career of unusual promise, and the same 
may be said of another young scientist who was for a 
while Bacon's own pupil, being coached by him in Mathe- 
matics at one part of his Cambridge course. 

This was Francis Balfour, afterwards Professor, a man 
of altogether exceptional genius and ability. His brother 
Arthur had preceded him at Trinity and taken his degree 
four years previously, and in those days it was popularly 
considered at Cambridge that, brilliant as was the youth 
who was presently to become Prime Minister of England, 
the younger brother was by far the cleverer of the two. 
Huxley, who loved him as his own son, said of him, " He 
is the only man who can carry out my work," and again 
later on, when the all too short career was closed, he wrote : 
" His early death, and W. K. Clifford's, have been the 
greatest loss to science not only in England, but in the 
world, in our time. Half a dozen of us old fogies could 
have been better spared." 

Professor Balfour met his death on the Alps in July, 
1882, while attempting the ascent of the Aiguille Blanche, 
then unclimbed. As a testimony to the rare thought- 
fulness and courtesy which have ever characterized the 
Balfour family, it may here be mentioned that nearly 
twenty years later my father, whose recollection, for 
some reason, had lately reverted to his old friend and 
pupil, ventured to write to Mr. Balfour, then Leader of 
the House of Commons, to ask if he had a photograph 
of his brother that he could spare him. The reply came 
immediately that Miss Balfour possessed certain copies 
of such a photograph, though at the moment she could 
H 113 

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not lay hands upon them, but if they presently were 
discovered one should certainly be sent. So time went 
by, and the matter passed completely from my father's 
mind, as he presumed it surely must have from the mind 
of a man who was holding the reins that guided a nation. 
Nevertheless, after a whole year, there came an autograph 
letter from the statesman, enclosing the photograph, 
which had just come to light. 

One more friend of Cambridge days was Edward Henry 
Palmer, the Orientalist, equally notable in his own way 
with those just commemorated, and like them cut short in 
the full tide of activity and usefulness. The tragedy of 
his courageous death belongs to the annals of English 

Bacon's first few months of married life opened aus- 
piciously enough. There was abundance of pupils ; 
friends were kind ; the clever, good-looking young parson 
and his pretty, vivacious wife were very popular. They 
loved entertaining, and there was much coming and going 
at 12 Park Side, and all the pleasant social excitement 
which appertains to youthful Cambridge existence. 

Bacon was working very hard far too hard, in fact ; 
for in addition to the tutorial work which absorbed all 
his week-day hours, his Sundays were fully occupied with 
clerical duties. He was ordained Priest at Ely Cathedral 
in September, 1871, and beside his regular work at Har- 
ston he took occasional duty over a wide area. There 
was scarce a church within a radius of many miles of 
Cambridge in which he did not, during this time, officiate ; 
driving himself in his dog-cart, or riding his mare, far 
down into the dreary fenland, or to remote outlying 
parishes where a few rough coprolite diggers formed his 
uncouth and occasionally unruly congregation. Some- 
times in after years he would tell quaint stories of his 


Sorrow and Disappointment 

experiences in these uncivilized, forgotten hamlets ; of 
navvies who threw turnips at him, of interrupted mar- 
riages, of gipsy christenings, of eccentric parish clerks ; 
of the church where there was a swarm of bees behind 
the altar, members of which community would crawl 
disconcertingly over his surplice ; and of that other 
Cambridge church where a scientific former incumbent, 
Professor and Rector and Senior Wrangler to boot, had 
erected a parabolic sounding-board over the pulpit, the 
focus of which was occupied by the preacher's head. 
From the congregation's point of view this arrangement 
was delightful, for the principle was acoustically perfect, 
and the speaker's voice carried to the farthest seats. 
The professor parson, however, had overlooked the con- 
sequences upon the preacher himself. Before the service 
began Bacon was warned, as was every new clergyman 
who came to the place, that he might possibly be dis- 
turbed in the pulpit, and before ever he had announced 
his text he understood the significance of the caution. 
For if the great parabola had the power of reflecting the 
preacher's voice, it was also equally efficient in collecting 
the sounds which came from the congregation. Every 
rustle, every cough, every footfall, every turning leaf, 
were gathered together into an overwhelming whole 
which smote upon the ear in the focus in a continuous 
buzz, alike unfamiliar and disconcerting. My father 
was wont to say that he feared his sermon suffered not 
a little in consequence, but at least the incident served 
to impress the acoustic principles of the parabola firmly 
upon his mind a fact that he found useful in later days. 

These clerical journeyings around Cambridge recalled 
many times to him a story of the past often related by 
his father, to whose college days it belonged. 

In the early years of the century there lived at Cam- 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

bridge an old clerical pluralist of the name of Field, who 
held the livings of Hauxton-cum-Newton-cum-Barrington, 
three small villages covering a wide area a few miles out 
of the town. The responsibilities of so large a cure 
weighed in no wise heavily upon their Vicar. Being of 
a social disposition, he found it suited his convenience a 
great deal better to make his home in Cambridge, and all 
the week to leave his parishes to take care of themselves. 
He probably argued (if he troubled about the matter at 
all) that they got on just as well without him, which was 
doubtless the case. On Sundays, however, something 
in the nature of duty had perforce to be gone through. 
Accordingly in the morning he would mount his old pony 
and ride out along the Trumpington road towards Newton. 
Before reaching it he would pass the corner of the road 
which led to Hauxton, and here he would pause a moment 
and look anxiously down it. If a Hauxton congregation 
had been inconsiderate enough to assemble for service, 
the parish clerk would be standing in the distance, waving 
his hat on a stick by way of signal. If, however, the 
road was vacant, the Vicar understood that no service 
was expected of him, and with a sigh of relief would amble 
on to Newton. 

Here he knew that service must be taken, since the 
ladies who lived in the Manor House were regular in their 
attendance at church and would infallibly be present. 
It behoved him, however, in view of his long ride, to be 
expeditious, and he had his own peculiar method of saving 
time. He dismounted at the church and turned his pony 
loose in the churchyard to browse among the graves, 
but as he entered the gate of the hallowed precincts he 
began to recite the office of Morning Prayer, beginning 
with " Dearly beloved brethren," and continuing, so that 
by the time he had entered the building, donned his 


Sorrow and Disappointment 

surplice and reached the chancel, he had got almost as 
far as the First Lesson. 

This was a great saving of time and breath, yet never- 
theless by the time he had reached Harrington in the 
afternoon his clerical labours had begun to tell upon him. 
Perhaps a few coprolite diggers were lounging about the 
churchyard waiting for service. To them he would say : 
" Now, my men, you are doing no good here ! Here's 
sixpence apiece for you. Go off and drink my health ! " 
Perhaps, however, it was a handful of bashful school- 
children who greeted his arrival. Them he would regard 
with a stern and reproving countenance : " Girls ! 
girls ! What do you mean by being out without your 
mothers ? Go home immediately ! " Having thus dis- 
posed of his congregation he would jog back to Cam- 
bridge, wearied indeed, but with the serene content of a 
man who has done his duty. 

This was the story as my grandfather would tell it to 
his sons in their young days. Many years afterwards, 
curiously enough, Maunsell, the eldest, became himself 
Vicar of Newton-cum-Hauxton (Barring ton had long 
been separated from the triple alliance). At Hauxton 
Church was still the original surplice that was in use in 
the days of Field, and his successor was quick to note 
how the back of it hung in curious curves where the linen 
had been torn by the spurs of the late divine, and the 
hem had been turned up time and again to repair the 

It is ofttimes difficult for the young, strong, and enthu- 
siastic to realize, before it is too late, that there are limits 
even to their endurance, and that they run the danger 
of drawing overdrafts upon their store of strength and 
energy that may never be recovered. Troubles and 
anxieties came all too soon upon the happy pair. Fred 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

Myers, the dearly loved friend and brother, sank into a 
rapid decline, and his life, which had opened most bril- 
liantly, closed at only twenty-three at Mentone, in 
December, 1871. Less than a week before, Mrs. Myers, 
the mother, had died with great suddenness. This double 
shock naturally made Bacon anxious for his wife, then 
shortly to become a mother. On the 23rd of January 
was born their first child, Francis, to whom Beres- 
ford Hope stood sponsor at the christening. The young 
wife was long and seriously ill after this event. The 
young husband felt that the added responsibilities and 
expenses of fatherhood entailed upon him yet harder 
work and more strenuous efforts. One drenching, bitter 
day of April he took Sunday duty far down in the country, 
got wet through, and for many hours remained in his 
damp clothes. This was the finishing straw to a con- 
stitution already far overtaxed by anxiety and work. 
A violent chill was the result, which in its early stages 
was neglected and wrongly treated, until it developed 
into congestion of the lungs, and this in turn into more 
serious trouble yet. For six long weeks of bright spring 
weather he lay in bed, and when he rose at length he was 
but the shadow of his former self. He did not perhaps 
at first realize the full significance of the calamity which 
had befallen him, but in truth the mischief of a lifetime 
had been done, and the seeds of a fatal malady implanted. 
Already his bright career was nipped in the bud. Ere yet 
he had reached six-and- twenty he had received a handicap 
more completely and cruelly crippling than the loss of a 
hand or foot or eye. 

The brief fragmentary diaries, half a dozen words to a 
day, which he kept during this and subsequent years, 
read inexpressibly sad to one who realizes the full meaning 
underlying the bald, terse statements. To his child, at 


Sorrow and Disappointment 

least, they seem all the more pathetic by reason of their 
very brevity and simplicity, and above all, because there 
breathes through these records of dark days and some 
of the times then and to come were dark indeed the 
same spirit of patient courage, of brave endeavour under 
crushing burdens, of noble endurance, which all through 
his chequered life was the man's grandest characteristic. 
Even during the time spent in bed, when the journal of 
weary days is inscribed in faint, wavering pencil, the 
active brain is busily seeking distraction and ever finding 
fresh interests to occupy it. He takes up shorthand ; 
he tries, when allowed to sit up in bed, to paint lantern 
slides ; he becomes (by proxy) an enthusiastic gardener. 
The entries, " Pot mimulus and verbena cuttings," " Bed 
calceolarias and petunias and asters," " Start creepers 
in greenhouse," have so little suggestion of the sick-room 
about them that it comes as quite a shock to find, a full 
fortnight later, the record of his sitting up an hour or two 
in his bedroom for the first time. How radically different 
the treatment of pulmonary disease is in these days 
from what it was only thirty years ago, may be gathered 
from the fact that Bacon makes note of the window being 
opened in the fifth week of his illness, and this was in 
June weather. Yet his doctor and dearly loved per- 
sonal friend was none other than George, afterwards 
Sir George, Paget, head of Addenbrooke's Hospital, as 
great a physician as his brother James was a surgeon. 
My father has told me in later years how specially trying 
to him, while he was ill, was this fetich of the closed win- 
dow he to whom from earliest boyhood fresh air and 
the cold morning tub were a veritable cult. He amused 
himself in bed with planning all sorts of methods by 
which free ventilation without dangerous draught might 
be ensured, and recommended them to his doctors, who 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

laughed them to scorn. Nevertheless he lived to see his 
theories vindicated and not a few of the devices he had 
once conceived in universal operation. 

During the summer he recovered somewhat and re- 
sumed his work, but his former strength had departed 
from him, never to return. He had lost the usfe of one 
lung completely and beyond all recovery. His gym- 
nastic and athletic pursuits were entirely at an end. 
Henceforward he could not run, or even walk fast, or 
exert himself quickly in any way. In later years, when 
Anno Domini had worked its ravages upon his contem- 
poraries and his own life of rigid simplicity and self- 
denial had preserved intact the active powers so often 
lost beyond forty, he regained somewhat the bodily pre- 
eminence he once held, so that men of his own years 
marvelled to see how much he could do and endure, and 
would scarce believe he was in truth so crippled as was 
the case. But in the days of his full activity and youth, 
with all his life yet before him, to be converted by one 
fell stroke from an unusually strong man to a semi- 
invalid a thing of respirators and chest protectors 
was a cruel blow indeed, and when the months passed 
by and brought no renewed strength, but in place ever 
recurring attacks of pulmonary hemorrhage, even blacker 
shadows lurked about the little Cambridge home where 
life had opened so brightly but a year ago. 

What the poor devoted young wife must have gone 
through in these months of bitter trial is pitiful to dwell 
on, and yet even worse troubles were before her. In the 
winter of this ill-fated year a favourite sister died sud- 
denly, and in the following summer the baby, their first- 
born, then a beautiful boy of eighteen months, was seized 
with convulsions. Again the brief diary record brings 
a lump to the throat of the reader who can feel the heart- 


Sorrow and Disappointment 

break beneath the enumeration of doctor's visits, three 
and four a day, until " Babe at rest " closes the brief 
chapter of a tiny life. 

Bacon's health still did not improve. The hemor- 
rhages continued. Change of air was tried Cambridge 
work abandoned, and visits paid among friends and 
relations. They went to Bognor, to Berkshire, to the 
Wye Valley, and the whole of the winter of 1873-4 from 
November to April was spent in lodgings at Torquay. 
Too often it seemed as if they were fighting a losing 
battle, but Bacon fought hard. Never for a moment 
did he allow himself to sink into the listless apathy of 
prolonged invalidism. His powers were sadly limited, 
but he made the most of them, nor ever lacked for in- 
terest or employment. He became a proficient in short- 
hand, and felt the value of it all his life. He resumed his 
interest in astronomy and bought and read many books, 
especially those of R. A. Proctor, then just coming out. 
He took up botany, and made carefully pressed collections 
of the flowers he could find in the short walks his feeble 
strength allowed him. At Torquay he joined the Art 
School and took lessons in water-colour painting. While 
there he also tried to test ocean currents by means of 
corked bottles thrown into the sea with stamped addressed 
messages within, and obtained a few curious results. 
How greatly his bid for health was assisted by his own 
pluck and spirit and the power he ever cultivated of 
throwing himself into outside occupation, it needs no 
physician to point out. 

And he had need of all his strength and courage and 
patience, for a new trial, the severest yet, was upon him. 
The pair returned to Cambridge early in April, 1874, and 
on the igth of that month their second child, a daughter, 
the present writer, was born to them. This was before 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

the time of the highly trained nurses and watchful medical 
care of the present day. Some neglect occurred, some- 
thing went wrong. Many months of deep anxiety and 
trouble and one shock upon another, had doubtless had 
their effect upon the sorely tried young wife, for all her 
placid sweetness and brave endurance. However that 
may be, immediately after my birth my mother was 
taken violently ill, her illness being all the more terrible 
and affecting in that it was of the mind and not of the 
body. There followed dark days indeed. The poor 
baby innocent cause of the mischief was packed off 
to its grandmother's care, while doctors and nurses held 
sway over the distracted Cambridge home. Chief nurse 
of all, most tender, devoted, patient, and unremitting in 
his care, was the deeply stricken husband. Despite his 
own broken health, he watched by his wife's side day and 
night until the acute stage of the malady at length was 
past. But his Gertrude was not yet restored to him. 
After many weeks and months the brain was still clouded, 
and it was felt at last that from time alone could be hoped 
the possible ultimate recovery. 

Bacon felt that he had come, though all too soon, to a 
parting of the ways. Another winter had been spent at Tor- 
quay, yet still his health showed no signs of improvement. 
He went to the doctors with a definite inquiry. They 
shook their heads, talked vaguely, and recommended 
Madeira or the south of France. Bacon interpreted 
their meaning only too clearly. He was but twenty- 
eight, had been married scarce four years, but already his 
work was done, his golden dreams shattered, his bright 
career at an end. He who might have accomplished so 
much must meekly put his aspirations aside. His beloved 
Cambridge life, and with it all the high hopes and ambitions 
for which it stood, must be abandoned. Henceforward 


Sorrow and Disappointment 

he must leave to others the sun-flecked upward path of 
honourable toil and well-earned success, and he himself 
must find some quiet backwater where, with his invalid 
wife and baby daughter, he might turn aside and die. 
Nothing now remained to keep him at Cambridge. 
His elder brother's University career was finished. He 
had taken his degree, had been ordained, and had been 
appointed to the living of Newton, where, with his family, 
he had removed. Cambridge life and climate were good 
neither for Bacon's health nor his wife's condition. Early 
in June, 1875, after ten years spent at the University, 
he left it for good, and by so doing closed with what 
bitter pangs a chapter of his life. 


BACON'S first move was to North Stoke, a little 
village on the Oxfordshire side of the Thames, 
not far from Moulsf ord. He chose this spot in order to 
be near his second brother, Frank, who by this time had 
left the Service, had married, and lately had been dis- 
tinguishing himself by the invention of a gun of special, 
and most ingenious, breech-loading mechanism. At 
North Stoke, Bacon spent one winter. But neither the 
house nor the climate proving desirable, he was soon 
seeking for a new home. Berkshire, his native county, 
had the strongest attraction for him, and he searched 
for a spot as near as might be to the scenes of his 
earliest recollections. At length he found it. Some 
four miles north-east of Newbury, about a mile and 
a half north of the great Bath Road, lies the little 
village of Coldash, perched picturesquely about the 
slopes and summit of a ridge of high upland known 
locally as " The Rudge." The church is reputed to 
stand the highest of any church in Berkshire, and this 
may well be the case, since it is 500 feet above sea-level. 
All the winds of heaven may, and do, blow clear about 
that lofty spot. From the road which runs along the 
top of the ridge are said to be visible the proverbial seven 
counties ; that mystical number claimed for every lofty 
elevation in Great Britain, except the higher mountains, 


The Home at Coldash 

which demand belief in fourteen. Bacon, who studied 
the matter carefully, could never satisfy himself about 
the visibility of the seventh county, though of six there 
is no doubt whatever. It was his great delight to take 
strangers up to the high ground behind our house, and 
point out to the north the tree-clad Oxfordshire hills 
rising over the Berkshire downland, with the high ground 
of Nettlebed and High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire 
on the far horizon ; while to the west and south could 
be seen Wiltshire and Hampshire, with a distant blue 
glimpse of the Surrey Hog's Back above the woods to 
the extreme left. 

Within the memory of not very aged inhabitants, 
Coldash was an unenclosed, uncultivated upland common, 
surrounded by long stretches of woodland, with a few 
humble, remote cottages scattered haphazard about it. 
Some fifty years ago the church was built, but for long 
there was no Vicarage, and the first Vicar occupied a 
house, almost the only one of any pretentious whatever 
in the village, which he himself enlarged to accommodate 
his increasing family. It was this dwelling which Bacon 
happened on. " Sunny side " was an unpicturesque, 
irregularly built, yet roomy house with a blue-tiled roof, 
standing just below the summit of the hill. Some nine 
acres of most picturesque grounds surrounded it, all 
sloping and undulating, so that there was not a level 
square yard in the whole estate, all the more beautiful 
on that very account. A broad green lawn led down 
to a pond overhung with willows, where white waterlilies 
grew and where a couple of swans used to float. A deep 
gully was crossed by a long rustic bridge, trailed over 
with roses ; fine trees surrounded the house, and the mea- 
dows were rich and fertile. It was a delightful spot, and 
Bacon fell in love with it at once. Its beauty and health- 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

ful situation appealed irresistibly to him ; its remote- 
ness and loneliness (for in those days at any rate it cer- 
tainly deserved such qualification) he considered no draw- 
back under the circumstances. He removed there with 
his family in the early part of 1876, and there for all the 
rest of his life, wellnigh thirty years, he made his home.' 4 ! 

Bacon was the type of man who loves his own nest and 
clings to old associations. He delighted and revelled 
in his beautiful Berkshire home from the first, and the 
years only made him more passionately attached to it. 
He had every reason indeed to love it, for to begin with 
at least it brought him renewed health and happiness. 
From the time of arrival his wife's health began rapidly 
to improve, so that in a very few months she was entirely 
herself again ; and the consumptive semi-invalid, her 
husband, who imagined his days were numbered, found 
soon that the pure breezes and bracing, if rigorous, 
climate of the upland village were bringing with them 
slowly, but surely, returning health and vigour. 

Coldash has become a popular health resort in these 
days. Its special properties and attractions are known 
to the multitude, and are becoming more and more ex- 
ploited year by year. It is hard enough to realize the 
place as it was thirty years ago, an unknown, unvisited, 
remote, neglected hamlet, with not even a village carrier 
to keep it in touch with the outside world ; its inhabitants 
a rough, uncouth population, ignorant and superstitious, 
whose sole interest and pastime was poaching. They 
gave (and still give) the hair of a stray dog in butter to 
cure their children of whooping cough. They saw ghosts 
and occasionally the Old Gentleman himself. The 
school being of recent origin, comparatively few of the 
middle-aged, and scarcely any of the old men and women, 
could read or write, and in all respects outside their very 


The Home at Coldash 

limited agricultural experience their ignorance was 
colossal. They ascribed their first Vicar's untimely 
death to the " overlooking "of a woman in the 
village, whose dark brows bespoke gipsy origin. 
They held strongest views upon the poisonous pro- 
perties of blindworms and " efts " (pronounced " effuts " ), 
as they called newts. They were ready with numerous 
instances of people who had lost limbs or life through 
meddling with these creatures, and if pressed hard with 
scientific argument and illustration would merely qualify 
their statements by the guarded reply that " Some says 
'tis one way and some t'other, but if they things beant 
all'us venomous they'd maybe turn so at any time." 

Such were the people and such was the home where 
Bacon found himself in his thirtieth year. He was now 
a man of leisure. His health at that time did not allow 
of his earning his own livelihood, nor was there any 
necessity for him to do so. But he was the last man in 
the whole world to remain idle. He read largely on all 
scientific, but especially astronomical subjects, and began 
to form the very extensive library which presently, 
every year adding fresh shelves, lined the walls of his 
own particular sanctum. He took up all manner of 
hobbies and pursuits, chemistry, gardening, rose-growing, 
music, what not. He was skilful at every form of handi- 
work, and loved to learn the " tricks of the trade " from 
every workman he came across, so that there was soon 
no kind of domestic craft with which he was not familiar, 
and no household emergency, from a leaky kettle to a 
stopped clock, from a broken window to an incapacitated 
pump, with which he could not cope. 

But his principal work lay in other directions. It 
was not for himself or his own interests that he chiefly 
laboured. He had ever the strongest sense of the duties 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

he owed his fellow-mortals. Charles Kingsley was his 
manhood's as he had been his boyhood's idol, and the 
clarion call to be up and doing for the good of humanity, 
as sounded in his stirring sermons and such books as 
" Two Years Ago," rang always in Bacon's ears. He 
quickly busied himself among his new neighbours. He 
began at once to help in clerical duty at Coldash and 
elsewhere, to establish and assist in parochial institutions, 
and, by concerts, lantern entertainments, and the like, 
enliven the long winter evenings in a manner quite un- 
wonted in that secluded spot. He was specially anxious 
to provide some interest for the male population of the 
place which should prove a rival attraction to the public- 
house and illicit snaring of game, till then the sole mascu- 
line relaxations. The happy idea struck him of inaugu- 
rating a Cottage Show, exclusively for the villagers of 
Coldash, when substantial prizes should be offered for 
the best garden produce, and the stimulus of competition 
should prove an incentive to the cultivation of cottage 
gardens and allotments, with results alike profitable to 
mind, body, and pocket. 

It may seem, nowadays, when such institutions are as 
common all over the country as daisies on a lawn, that 
there was nothing specially original or important about 
such a scheme ; nevertheless, in this, as in many other 
movements, Bacon was a true pioneer. Thirty years ago, 
in South Berkshire at any rate, cottage shows were 
practically unknown. The towns had their horticultural 
societies, and certain large neighbourhoods would unite 
together for an annual exhibition, but for the smaller 
villages there was no provision, nor was such deemed 
possible. Since Coldash triumphantly led the way and 
demonstrated the practicability of such an enterprise, 
cottage shows have sprung up on every side, and now 


The Home at Coldash 

there is scarce a village within a twenty-mile radius of 
Newbury which has not its own annual horticultural fete. 
In thirty years the origin of popular institutions may well 
become obscured and forgotten. All the same, it was 
Bacon who set the fashion and who showed the way. 

Of the real importance of such a movement among the 
rural population and of its widespread beneficent con- 
sequences, it boots not to speak. Suffice it to say that 
in Coldash, at any rate, the improvement was soon ap- 
parent. The inauguration and carrying on of such a 
scheme in those days, when all was new, meant no little 
thought and labour. Bacon formed a small committee 
of the neighbouring farmers, though he wisely kept the 
real control in his own hands. He interested the land- 
owners and gentry in the matter, and obtained their sub- 
scriptions. He personally visited each cottage of the 
place, walked round the garden, discussed learnedly of 
" turmuts " and " 'taters," and coaxed and cajoled the 
rustics, bashful and diffident to begin with, to exhibit 
their produce and compete for the prizes. He invited 
the neighbourhood and his own personal friends to be 
present and give countenance to the venture, and his 
brother Maunsell to help him and to make the humorous 
speech so absolutely necessary on such an occasion. He 
lithographed the small bills on his own stone, he gave his 
meadow for the show, he erected the tents and tabling 
with his own hands, he arranged everything personally, 
to the smallest detail. The day came and with it the 
cottagers (some wore smock-frocks still in those days) 
trundling their wheelbarrows full of produce. There 
were cheery greetings with " Dan'l " and " WilTum," 
and pleasant banter with " 'Liza " and Mary, in their 
big sun-bonnets, carrying apples and pot plants, and the 
children with their gay bunches of wild flowers closely 
i 129 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

compacted. There was the bustle of staging, the solemn 
mystery of judging, followed by much refreshing of the 
inner man for the willing helpers. Then, the midday 
siesta over, the village echoed to the stirring drum- thumps 
of the advancing band the tune they played a little 
vague, but the time the drummer kept beyond all praise 
and with the band arrived the people, all in their best 
and cleanest clothes, and there was the pleasant smell of 
flowers and trampled grass and fresh vegetables, the 
keen excitement over the awarding of the prizes, the 
speeches, the cheering, kiss-in-the-ring, and the returning 
band storming " Auld Lang Syne " through the village 
in the warm summer twilight. It all reads trivial and 
archaic enough in these times, to be sure, scarce worthy 
of mention, but to the unsophisticated rustic dwellers of 
that remote, neglected spot it was a red-letter day indeed, 
and fraught with overwhelming interest. The first 
Coldash Show was voted on all hands a tremendous 
success, and thus was happily inaugurated an institution 
which Bacon continued for twenty years, and the influence 
of which is yet fresh and still extending over a large and 
ever-increasing area. 

In these and similar labours, in all manner of in- and 
outdoor pursuits, in visiting and entertaining friends, 
and all the while to Bacon in winning back health and 
strength, passed four pleasant, peaceful years. In the 
autumn of the year after they came to Coldash he took his 
wife abroad to Paris and Switzerland, and they both 
regarded this little trip as their real and long-deferred 
honeymoon, which was to inaugurate a new and, they 
hoped, happier life. Alas ! sore trouble was yet before 

Under date December 28th, 1880, the laconic diary 
before mentioned contains the simple entry, " Third 

The Home at Coldash 

child born, Pigs killed " a record the callous brevity 
of which was a source of much amusement and banter 
in later days. The child referred to was a son, Frederic, 
named after the favourite brother. The winter that he 
was born was long remembered in fact, is not yet for- 
gotten in the south of England by rea!sbn of the great 
snow storm. Unusually mild weather before Christmas 
had given place to bright frosty days at the beginning 
of the new year, which continued with ever-increasing 
rigour until the 17 th of January. That night the snow 
began. Next morning the village woke to a white world 
covered with snow so deep that no postman could make 
his way through the choked lanes to the upland heights. 
Still the snow fell, sweeping down in volleying gusts 
from the dark sky and piled by the fierce wind in mountain 
drifts that reached the tops of the hedges. Coldash was 
in a state of siege, and not only Coldash but every out- 
lying village throughout the country. Trains were 
snowed up all over England, nearly one hundred 
barges were sunk at the mouth of the Thames ; the 
pier at Woolwich was carried away by ice, and the 
Post Office announced that communication between 
London and the provinces was almost altogether stopped. 
All that day it snowed, and far into the night. Bacon 
at that time possessed a beautiful St. Bernard dog of 
unusual size and great intelligence. Big as a small calf, 
with tawny coat and grand waving tail, he inspired terror 
in the juvenile breast as he walked abroad, almost upset 
his master when in playful gambols he placed huge fore- 
paws upon his chest, and many times bowled over the 
little girl who threw sticks in the pond for his delectation 
and got wet through when he shook himself over her after 
his swim. That night, the second night of the storm, 
Lion, tied up in the yard, barked wildly and ceaselessly, 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

apparently for no reason, for, true to his instincts, he loved 
the snow and preferred to sleep on it rather than inside 
his kennel. Morning came, and still no postman reached 
the beleaguered village, but soon tidings got about of a 
piteous tragedy which had occurred in our very midst. 
In an outstanding and solitary cottage on the hill, visible 
from our windows, lived a labourer a carter, a steady, 
middle-aged man. On that terrible day he had gone 
with his wagon and team to a place some miles distant. 
The roads were awful, and for many hours, during which 
he was without food, he had battled desperately with the 
snow and storm. But at length he could get his wagon 
no further, and leaving it in a place of safety for the night, 
he unharnessed the horses and started by himself to lead 
them homewards. The short, dark winter day drew 
quickly to a close, darkness fell, and along the heights 
of the Rudge which he had to traverse, the wind, thick 
with whirling flakes, swept fierce and ever fiercer about 
him. He reached the gate of the field across which lay 
his house. Only some hundred and fifty yards separated 
him from his own doorstep, but his sorely tried strength 
was failing at last. The fatal stupor of intense cold was 
creeping over him. Overpowered at length, he sank 
down under a hedge where the wind had blown a space 
clear of snow, and here his own son found him next morn- 
ing, frozen to death, with the patient horses standing 
unharmed beside him. Bacon was terribly upset at 
this pitiful event which had occurred almost at our very 
doors, just at the top of our own meadows in fact, and he 
never ceased reproaching himself that he had lacked the 
power to interpret the meaning of his wise dog's warn- 

But all too soon his own cares engrossed his attention. 
At first, after the birth of her son, it appeared as if all was 


The Home at Coldash 

going well with the mother, and the shadow of a great 
dread, which could not fail to oppress them both, seemed 
lifting, when signs of the old trouble began to reappear. 
In vain change of scene was tried. A complete break- 
down ensued, and although the acute stage passed quicker 
than on the previous occasion, yet never afterwards, 
during the whole of the rest of her life, did she ever fully 
recover her mental balance. For fourteen more years 
she lived among us, loving and beloved, perfectly happy 
and content, her sweet unselfish nature unchanged, her 
love for her home and family undiminished ; but hence- 
forward she could no longer be her husband's intellectual 
companion, enter into his pursuits, or triumph in his 
success. She could no longer bring up her children or 
rule her household, or entertain her friends, nor, despite 
long years of hoping against hope, did the power ever 
return to her. 

To me, the fourteen years which followed seem ever the 
finest of my father's life. Not till they were over had he 
opportunity of showing his real power to the world, or of 
doing the particular work which has made his name and 
fame. The very circumstances of his trouble compelled 
him to lead a quiet, retired life, rarely to leave home, to 
entertain few friends, to abandon intercourse with the 
world outside his own immediate circle. Yet surely, 
if our Christian beliefs count for anything, these fourteen 
years of purest devotion and self-sacrifice, patient hope, 
brave endeavour, manly fortitude, uncomplaining re- 
signation and noble example, yield place to none in true 
value and importance, and rank higher than all earthly 
success and honour in that complex whole which makes 
the Man. Lacking these years, he had surely lacked 
much of the wonderful power of sympathy and under- 
standing with high and low which endeared him to all 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

with whom he came in contact, and gave him a marvel- 
lous attraction and influence, especially over the young. 
Lacking these years, his best loved, and those few who had 
his whole heart, would have lacked an ensample which 
all their lives long will stand to them in highest and 
holiest recollection. 

Not even his own children knew, though they might 
partly guess, what his trouble meant and entailed upon 
him. Never had wife a more tender, devoted husband. 
Hand and foot he tended and cared for her, even to 
brushing and combing her long hair, which never to the 
end of her life was streaked with white. Her affliction 
only endeared her the more to him. He was ever by her 
side, and all his thoughts were for her pleasure and com- 
fort. To his boy and girl he was henceforward both 
father and mother, instructor and ruler, playmate, 
guide, philosopher, and friend. Alone he brought them 
up, alone he educated them, alone he ordered his house 
and controlled his servants, Everything, even to the 
most minor domestic affairs, hung upon his shoulders, 
and he stood alone. 

One thing at once became evident to him after the 
first few crushing months of his trial, and that was that 
if he was to preserve health and spirits he must seek out- 
side distraction. Forthwith he threw himself heart and 
soul into every kind of pursuit possible to him under the 
circumstances, and particularly he redoubled his efforts 
on behalf of others. If he had worked hard for his 
neighbours before, he now worked twice as hard. Tiring 
of occasional duty, he attached himself as clerical assistant 
to a neighbouring clergyman and friend, the Hon. and 
Rev. J. H. Nelson, greatnephew of the mighty seaman, 
who held the Rectory of Shaw, four miles distant. Curate 
he could scarcely be considered, since the stipend he 

The Home at Coldash 

accepted to make the matter binding was nominal only 
(Never at any time did he derive any income worthy 
the name from his clerical profession.) But with two 
and three services each Sunday, saint's-day and other 
week-day duties, Sunday-school teaching and visiting, 
he did a full curate's labour. It was work for which he 
was naturally well endowed, for he was a particularly 
good preacher. His sermons (at first written, latterly 
extempore, but always carefully prepared) were scholarly 
and finely worded, with the true " grip " of conviction, 
which riveted the attention even of the most somnolent 
of Sunday afternoon congregations. Theological hair- 
splitting and abstruse problems of divinity were not to 
his taste. He loved best to choose his text from the 
burning pages of Isaiah, and send his hearers home with 
the stirring message or the stern warning ringing in their 
ears. He was the lucky possessor of a splendid and most 
sympathetic voice which he knew how to use to best 
advantage. He ingratiated himself immediately with 
all with whom he came into contact. Had his tastes and 
inclination really lay, as he once thought they did, to- 
wards the life of a parish priest, there is no doubt he would 
have made a highly popular and successful one. 

For seven years he held his position at Shaw, driving 
the four intervening miles in summer and riding them 
in winter, always with such regularity that the cottagers 
whose houses he passed set their clocks on Sunday morn- 
ings by his appearance. He allowed himself no holiday, 
save the usual " parson's fortnight " every autumn 
when he took his family to the seaside. In all those years 
he never once missed a service, or, save once when on a 
frosty day his mare came down under him, was even a 
minute behind time. To this riding and driving in the 
open, through all weathers, he attributed his recovered 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

health, and the fact that never during all that while did 
he once suffer cold or indisposition. 

But he had plenty of other vent for his activity, and 
scope for his enterprise. The great event of the year to 
his village was of course the flower show, and he now set 
to work to add more attractions to the programme and 
render it more specially unique every season. A cat 
show was the first and very popular addition, and village 
matrons brought their favourites in baskets, and children 
staggered under their unwilling burdens, who frequently 
escaped at the last moment ; and rows of sleek pussies 
with ribbons round their necks, with and without their 
families, labelled with fanciful names and prices, as 
" Angelina, 1000 guineas," " Cleopatra, 500," and so 
forth, sat on red cushions behind restraining wire netting, 
and regarded the spectators with sulky indifference or 
smug and purring self-satisfaction. 

A donkey show was the next addition, and then all 
manner of side-shows and exhibitions. One year a 
skilful chef in white cap and apron, with portable 
cooking stove, gave illustration to the villagers of the 
making of wholesome and inexpensive soups and stews. 
Another year a fountain (reputed to be of marvellous 
healing power) spouted home-made lemonade. A display 
of every kind of domestic handicraft was succeeded by a 
bee tent, and practical illustration of the various means 
by which enterprising cottagers might add to their earn- 
ings. The Coldash Show was becoming a very popular 
and widely known institution, and the fact that there 
were practically no outside expenses connected with it, 
that there were no paid assistants, and that Bacon did 
the work with his own hands and devoted his time without 
limit, enabled the enterprise to be almost self-supporting, 
and to distribute substantial prizes with a list of sub- 


The Home at Coldash 

scriptions far smaller than that needed by even the most 
modest village institutions. Year by year Bacon added to 
the attractions and at the same time lessened the expendi- 
ture. He and his wife between them produced not only 
all the flags and streamers which made the field on show 
day a rainbow of colour, but they actually set to work 
to manufacture the very tents which housed the ex- 
hibits ; she sewing the long seams, he planning and 
cutting out the material, arranging the gores, turning 
the finials, planing the poles, and working the ropes. The 
sewing and arranging were all done in the garden in summer 
time, the material spread out on the grass, and in a few 
years they made some dozen and more tents, several of 
considerable size, and equal to any professionally turned 
out articles. 

The next economy was to set up a printing press and 
outfit. An upper room of the house was given over for 
the purpose, and here Bacon spent happy hours turning 
out handbills, prize cards, programmes, church notices, 
leaflets, and so forth, not only for himself but for numerous 
friends and acquaintances. In this, as in all his other 
pursuits, he trained his children to help him, and it was 
their keenest delight to pull the printed sheets deftly 
from the press, to pick the type out of the cases, and later, 
when their spelling powers were equal to the task, to 
" compose " it in the " stick." It was a delightful way 
of simplifying the art of learning to read. It put ordinary 
information in a fresh light, and added details of new and 
absorbing interest, so that the difference between an 
" em " and an " en " quad, and the position of the letters 
in a type case, were learned along with the alphabet and 
as deeply impressed on the mind. 

Desire to add to the attraction and usefulness of the 
cottage show led constantly to new developments. The 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

first and most important was handbell ringing. Bacon 
had never lost his old love of campanology, though it 
had now been long since he had taken his place in the 
ringing chamber. He might never hope to do so again, 
but much pleasure could be derived from handbells, and 
he conceived the design of forming and training a hand- 
bell team, ostensibly as an attraction at the show and 
other village functions, but very largely with a view to 
providing a healthful interest among a certain class of 
men, whose needs are apt to go uncatered for in village 
circles. He chose his team of eight with great care. 
There was the village baker, a local joiner and his brother, 
four farmers or sons of farmers, and himself. Later, to 
fill the gaps which occurred, a retired police officer, a young 
schoolmaster, the village carpenter, and others, were added 
to the ranks. Between these men and their leader there 
soon arose a bond of almost brotherly union. They one 
and all looked up to their teacher with wellnigh reveren- 
tial love and admiration, and he in turn regarded them 
as his own chosen disciples. They were at his beck and 
call for every manner of enterprise ; no tasks were too 
hazardous, or arduous, or ridiculous for them. They 
followed him blindly wherever he led, and never had man 
more faithful, devoted colleagues. Chief among them 
in point of age, size, and strength was an old Scotchman, 
once head-gardener in large estates, now a small and not 
very prosperous farmer, of unusual bodily powers, of 
iron nerve, of inconceivable rashness, with the strongest 
sense of humour, the broadest Scotch dialect, the wicked- 
est love of mischief, and withal the tenderest and kind- 
liest heart that ever beat. Like so many of his class, he 
had his weakness, the difficulty of saying " No " to the 
promptings of so-called good fellowship, and it was for 
this very reason that Bacon enrolled him a member of 


The Home at Coldash 

the ringing team and specially shared with him all his 
subsequent pursuits and hobbies ; thereby occupying the 
old man happily and harmlessly many evenings that 
might otherwise have been spent to less advantage. 
For very many years, long after the ringing days were 
over, the old farmer, by tacit consent, would come up 
two and three nights a week, one being invariably Satur- 
day, to play billiards, drink his single glass of whisky, 
and discourse with great shrewdness on every conceivable 
topic. Between him and my father there existed the 
truest bond of friendship and mutual esteem. There 
was nothing that either would not do for the other, but 
it fell to Bacon's lot to perform the last office for his old 
comrade. One bitter cold winter afternoon he was sum- 
moned hastily by tidings of an accident, and, hurrying to 
the farm, found that the old man, chilled by a long drive 
from market, had fallen on his head from the cart he was 
descending from on to the iron-hard ground of his own 
yard. It was Bacon who lifted the poor grey head and 
tried vainly to force stimulant down the lifeless throat. 
It was Bacon who broke the tidings to the widow. It 
was Bacon who wrote the obituary notice for the local 
press and followed to the grave the old friend he loved 
well and mourned deeply. 

Another specially loved member of the band was a 
tall, good-looking young farmer, stout and strong enough 
apparently, but who, as the result of a neglected cold, 
caught in the bitter nights of lambing season, sank pre- 
sently into a decline a common enough story, unfortu- 
nately, among his class. Bacon did everything he could 
for his assistance. He took him to town to see a special- 
ist, and afterwards, at his own expense, to the seaside, 
where, I recollect, the visitor (it was his first sight of the 
coast) remarked that the sea went uphill, and displayed 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

an inordinate fear of being caught by the tide. But in 
despite of all the disease ran its fell course, and there was 
a touching scene when the two friends bade each other 
a last farewell. For the young schoolmaster, who dis- 
played musical talent, Bacon provided organ lessons, 
which were turned to good account. For a fourth, it 
may perhaps be mentioned (whose head measure was the 
same as his own), Bacon dedicated one of his top-hats, 
which was borrowed indiscriminately for weddings and 
funerals. Not one of the party still living (for quite 
half have joined the majority) but still gratefully remem- 
bers their leader for many happy hours spent together, 
for many little deeds of kindness, and a helping hand held 
out in the hour of need. 

The ringing team were as true-hearted a set of men as 
could be desired, but it cannot be conceded that they were 
musical geniuses. Scarce one of them could read a note 
of music, and the task of teaching them was laborious 
in the extreme. One method employed for aiding their 
memories and sharpening their wits, was to compel the 
defaulter to take a specially strong shock from a galvanic 
battery, while his comrades stood round and jeered ; 
but no shock was too strong for the old Scotchman, who 
therefore remained incorrigible to the end of the chapter. 
Nevertheless, by dint of much patience and by specially 
invented and extraordinarily simplified " scores," most 
successful results were attained. The Coldash Ringers 
became famous throughout the whole neighbourhood, 
and were greatly sought after for all manner of enter- 
tainments, often going many miles to exhibit their skill 
and add to the pleasure of their neighbours. Bacon's 
bells were of specially soft tone, and in later years he 
almost doubled their number with his own hands, making 
the moulds from which the metal was cast in a local 


The Home at Coldash 

foundry, and then turning these rough castings in his 
lathe, tuning them carefully (by no means an easy task), 
making the handles and clappers, and completing them 
in every particular. The long range of handbells was 
quite a feature of the Coldash home, and afforded no little 
amusement to visitors and friends long after the old 
team was scattered and gone. 

Out of the interest excited by this new venture grew 
a handbell competition, which for several summers was 
a famous annual institution at Coldash. Campano- 
logical experts, from St. Paul's and elsewhere, were the 
judges, and competing teams came from all the country- 
side, the whole neighbourhood flocking to hear them. 
The success of these institutions encouraged Bacon to add 
to them. The good old country competition once 
widely popular of a ploughing match had died out in 
South Berkshire, and Bacon set himself the task of re- 
viving it. Various meetings took place under his gui- 
dance. The movement was very popular, and, due to 
his exertions and with the addition of his own original 
attractions, " caught on " immediately. As in the case 
of the cottage show, others took the enthusiasm and 
followed suit, and ploughing matches are once more 
common functions in the neighbourhood. 

The next hobby was bee culture. In those days, 
twenty years ago, interest was first being aroused in local 
and specially village industries, and in the means by which 
the labourer might be taught to add to his earnings and 
to the limited interests of his life. Bacon became bitten 
with the idea. He started bees himself, made his own 
hives and appliances, went long distances to consult 
authorities (for in those days the science of bee-keeping 
was in its infancy), read up every book on the subject, 
and adopted every latest improvement. Whatever 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

work he undertook he gave his whole soul to, with the 
result that he always achieved success, and with bee- 
keeping he was very successful indeed. 

Where he succeeded others must share too. He 
thirsted to impart his new-found knowledge. The out- 
come of his desires was "The Newbury District Bee 
Association. President, The Queen (bee). Hon. Sec., 
J. M. Bacon. Expert, S. Knight, Jnr." Not much in 
the way of subscription was needed to float and work the 
new enterprise, for there were no salaries, Bacon did the 
printing, and he and his wife made the bee tent with 
their own hands. The " expert " was another true and 
trusty friend, who can to this day recall merry memories 
of long drives to outlying parishes, the secretary driving 
his mare in a tax-cart laden with tent poles and canvas 
and apparatus, a " skep " of bees between their legs, 
which probably came unsecured before the end of the 
journey, with exciting results; or of bee-driving ex- 
periences when the bees got " nasty," and the two men 
behind the black gauze curtains had to appear serenely 
unconscious of bees up their sleeves, and bees down their 
necks, and stings which, despite their immunity due to 
the frequency of the occurrence, made it hard at times to 
smile and look happy. The Bee Association did good 
work, but it was sometimes uphill labour. The ignorance 
of the peasantry was only equalled by their determination 
to remain unenlightened. One summer Bacon thought 
he had made some progress in his own home. It was 
the custom of the village bee-keepers, of course, to take 
their honey every autumn by the primitive method of 
killing the bees. Bacon persuaded them to let him save 
the bees' lives by driving them instead, giving the owners 
the honey and taking the stocks himself. At first the 
villagers were delighted enough with this plan, which 


The Home at Coldash 

saved them all trouble in the matter ; but the following 
winter was a specially bad season, and as a consequence 
many hives died. The cottagers saw in this only the 
direct result of the new-fangled notions, and reverted 
promptly to their ancient barbarity. 

Bacon taught his children to help him a little in this 
work, but beyond their feeble aid he could get no assist- 
ance from the Coldash yokels. The old Scotchman was 
altogether too reckless ; the rest of the ringing team would 
have followed him through fire and water, but they drew 
the line at bees. His own gardener was the biggest 
coward of the lot. He used to complain loudly that the 
row of hives interfered with his work in the kitchen garden, 
and tell endless stories of the way in which he had been 
attacked. " But they never sting you, do they, Alfred ? " 
asked my father one day after one of the periodical 
growls. " No, sir, I can't exactly say as they stings, but 
they pricks a bit sometimes," was the startling reply. 
It was the same trusty servant who came to consult his 
master one morning about the " harmonium " in the 
stable, and Bacon was much exercised as to this strange 
position of a musical instrument, until it dawned upon 
him that " ammonia " was probably intended. It was 
a friend of the gardener's, so he said, who died (not 
inappropriately) of "begonia," and it was one of the 
elders of the ringing team who one night, discussing 
" ritualism," said he understood it was the custom in 
certain places to burn " insects " in the churches surely 
not a bad plan where ancient cushions and hassocks do 


LOWER shows, bee-driving, and handbell contests 
A were summer occupations, but there were plenty 
of winter diversions as well. First and foremost, and 
most keenly enjoyed of all, came firework making. I 
suppose it was the boy instinct in Bacon, an instinct he 
never outgrew, but it may be doubted whether even 
ballooning afforded him truer pleasure than the making 
and letting off of his own fireworks. In the many years 
covered by the diaries aforementioned there stands one 
entry, and one only, written in red ink. This is the 
record of the firing of his first rocket a red-letter day in 
very truth. As usual, he went into the art very thor- 
oughly, made his own apparatus, and bought his own 

[I His skill increased rapidly, and proportionately his 
rockets grew in size until they culminated with a leviathan 
of twelve pounds or more, the case strengthened by 
lashings of cord, and secured to a regular pole by way of 
stick. Making fireworks was a capital diversion for bad 
weather, and the whole family, with the outdoor servants 
to boot, all with large aprons and blackened faces, would 
find employment in the barn which did duty as an out- 
door workshop, cutting brown paper, rolling the cases, 
" choking " the rockets, moulding stars, and loading 
Roman candles. The outcome of several weeks' labour 
would be a grand " display " one calm moonless night, 


A First Balloon Ascent 

when the whole village would assemble on the lawn or 
in the meadows, and gaze with open-mouthed and gasping 
appreciation at flights of rockets, bursting shells, twirling 
tourbillions, bombardments of coloured stars, gerbes, 
Catherine wheels, and the like. Great was the excitement 
afforded by these entertainments. The old Scotchman, 
who must necessarily be chief assistant in the firing, kept 
his leader in agonies by the tremendous and quite un- 
necessary risks he insisted on running. One night a 
" pigeon " escaped from its restraining cord, and after 
ploughing an alarming course among the crowd, made a 
neat little hole through the glass of a bedroom window 
and burnt up part of a carpet and the towels on a towel- 
horse, before its location was discovered. Winter by 
winter the displays became more elaborate and ambitious, 
while novel features were continually being introduced. 
One time the home-printed programmes, illustrated with 
spirited woodcuts (also Bacon's handiwork) announced 
the promised arrival of distinguished visitors to wit, 
King Hokie Pokie and certain of his loyal subjects from 
their Cannibal Archipelago. In the midst of the fire- 
works these dusky warriors, wild and ferocious of aspect, 
suddenly appeared, dancing around a coloured watch- 
fire to the strains of their national anthem ; while the 
indulgent, but slightly scandalized, Rector of Shaw 
beheld his clerical assistant, the dining-room woolly 
hearth-rug about his waist, his blackened head stuck 
with white goose feathers, wedged half in and half 
out of a paraffin barrel, carried in triumph on the 
shoulders of his comrades (the ringing team), similarly 

The fame of Bacon's fireworks spread abroad. He 
widened his field of action and gave exhibitions in sur- 
rounding villages to help on local institutions, Primrose 
K 145 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

League entertainments, and the like. His winters were 
soon completely filled, for he became the recognized 
popular entertainer of the neighbourhood. Generally the 
handbells formed part of the repertoire, sometimes fire- 
works, or both. Hokie Pokie occasionally showed him- 
self, and so did Ching-Fo, the great Chinese giant, 8 ft. 
5J- in. in height (but rather short in the arm), who was 
very splendid in appearance but not very firm in gait, 
since the Scotch legs would indulge in such vagaries and 
fits of chuckling that the little baker above, who wore 
the great green hat and portentous pigtail, was hard put 
to, to preserve his dignity and balance. 

On less ambitious occasions it was " Al-a-Humbug, 
the Eastern Magician," who provided the entertainment. 
Sufficiently disguised in spectacles, lofty cap, and long 
white beard, and clothed in scarlet robes thickly em- 
broidered with cabalistic signs, Bacon would mystify 
rustic audiences by incomprehensible conjuring tricks of 
the scientific order ; take their photographs through a 
marvellous camera on sheets of paper which, when 
damped, would display lineaments declared to be exact 
likenesses ; and compound chemical smells of such ter- 
rific intensity that the company have been known to rise 
to their feet and fly, until open windows had somewhat 
cleared the atmosphere. 

One specially severe winter, when a good deal of distress 
prevailed, Bacon went in to the subject of cheap and nourish- 
ing food for the masses, and read all that Count Rumf ord 
and other experts have had to say on the matter. The 
result was the institution of soup evenings in our barn 
at Coldash, when the villagers brought their basins and 
consumed generous helpings of strong and tasty vege- 
table soup, thickened with oatmeal and suet dumplings, 
which was universally voted excellent, and the recipe of 


A First Balloon Ascent 

which (in part arrived at by Bacon's own experiments 
in a pipkin over the study fire, for he liked to experi- 
mentalize in cooking as in all other things) was widely 
disseminated. An hour or two's entertainment followed 
the soup-eating, and the natural sequence of these social 
evenings was the establishment of a young men's club 
in that same invaluable barn, duly decorated and arranged 
for the purpose. 

The Coldash Club, while it lasted, was an unqualified 
success, which is more than can be said for many similar 
institutions. Again and again, at clerical meetings and 
the like, Bacon heard his brother clergy acknowledge and 
deplore the impossibility of preserving interest in village 
clubs, started with considerable outlay and much flourish 
of trumpets, but after the first few months, when the 
novelty had worn off, deserted and inoperative. He 
drew his own conclusions, and later, at the end of some 
four or five years, looked back upon his own venture 
with pardonable self-congratulation ; for until the day 
when, through pressure of other work, he decided not to 
reopen the club another winter, the muster roll was as 
large as ever, the interest as keen, and, while the ex- 
penses were practically nil, the loafing, idling element 
of the village had most sensibly diminished. 

For all this his own hard work and personal influence 
were entirely to thank. He had his ringing team to help 
him, but he himself was always present on club nights 
to keep the ball rolling, and he spent his time in devising 
fresh amusements and developments. The barn was 
enlarged to twice its original dimensions ; a stage was 
erected, a cowshed adapted as "green room," Bacon 
added scene-painting to his other accomplishments, and 
soon theatrical entertainments were the order of the day. 
It was hard work to unearth much histrionic power in 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

such a neighbourhood, but talent was discovered in un- 
likely quarters, and not the most finished and elaborate 
performances at the Lyceum or His Majesty's were ever 
received with more whole-hearted and rapturous applause. 
The barn came in useful also for other kinds of meetings. 
At the close of 1885 was fought the first General Election 
after the extension of the franchise. For the first time 
the unsophisticated Berkshire yokel found himself the 
proud but somewhat puzzled possessor of a vote, and 
discovered that he had thereby become a person of im- 
portance ; while the further fact that he was also likely 
to become the dupe and tool of the unscrupulous had not 
yet dawned upon him. Bacon was no politician. He 
prided himself that newspaper reading occupied (or as he 
styled it " wasted ") no part of his time. He was no 
respecter of institutions whose antiquity was their sole 
excuse. But at the same time he was no iconoclast, and 
the doctrines of Disestablishment, Home Rule and the 
like, were entirely distasteful to him. The Conservative 
candidate for South Berks was a personal friend, the 
model landlord of a large property. Bacon espoused 
his cause heart and soul, and for the first and only time 
in his life took an active part in an election. Conservative 
meetings were held in the barn, specially enlarged and 
decorated for the purpose. A small fountain played in 
front of the stage, and above the speaker's head a large 
Japanese umbrella, actuated by a bottle-jack, clicked 
slowly and ceaselessly round, displaying in turn the heads 
of various statesmen, one crowned by a big fool's cap. 
I don't know whether this ocular demonstration may 
have affected the issue, but the Conservatives won the 
day amid wild excitement which culminated, as far as 
Coldash was concerned, when Bacon brought the news 
from Newbury (there was no telegraph in those days) 


A First Balloon Ascent 

on horseback, with the blue ribbon of victory fluttering 
from his whip. 

My father was Ruling Councillor for a while of the 
local Habitation of the newly founded Primrose League. 
A far more important position was that of Poor Law 
Guardian, which he held for several years. To the enu- 
meration of all these labours, responsibilities, and pursuits, 
must needs be added the entire education of his boy and 
girl. No governess or tutor was suffered to invade the 
sanctity of the home circle, no school terms apportioned 
out the year. Friends and relations looked with appre- 
hension on this unconventional upbringing, and were 
minded to remonstrate at what they considered so 
momentous and drastic an experiment. But Bacon had 
the strength of his convictions, and, as ever, he went his 
own way. His methods of teaching were unique but 
extremely effective ; his curriculum also was distinctly 
out of the ordinary. French and Latin, and later (for 
the sake of the Cambridge " Little Go " ) Greek, were 
included in it, though no great stress was laid upon them. 
History, geography, and grammar were left very much 
to look after themselves, but mathematics with both 
his children was carried much further than usual at their 
age, and natural sciences, elementary astronomy, chem- 
istry, botany, and physics, formed a considerable part 
of the day's work. His specially avowed aim was to 
teach his children to think for themselves, and to implant 
in their young minds the desire for knowledge as more 
important than the knowledge itself. To this end he 
assisted and encouraged them without s^tint in any pur- 
suit for which they showed inclination, and placed at 
their entire disposal a splendid library, the contents of 
which were varied enough to suit the most catholic of 
tastes, and to throw light upon every conceivable topic 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

that came to hand. One peculiar method of education 
he adopted was to set various Subjects on which, after 
due interval for preparation, we children had to deliver, 
without notes, and in the presence of a small audience, 
something that we proudly termed a "lecture." This 
proceeding possessed special advantages of its own. My 
father held that many men (though perhaps scarcely as 
many women!) are much handicapped in later life by 
fright at the sound of their own voices, as witness many a 
painful exhibition at after-dinner speeches and the like. 
I think both of his children have lived to prove the wisdom 
of the early training that taught us to assimilate facts 
with a view to imparting them to others, and rid us of 
nervousness and hesitation in so doing. 

Thus passed several peaceful, useful years. They were 
happy years too, on the whole, I believe. The shadow 
of one great trouble never lifted, but Bacon had learned 
the solace of hard work, and his children, with whom he 
shared every interest and occupation, were growing more 
and more into his companions. So far his labour had 
been all for others, but there came a day, at last, when 
he felt he had fairly earned a " treat " for himself, and 
of the form which this indulgence was to take there could 
be no doubt. The story of his brief holiday experience, 
fraught as it was with unforeseen but all-important con- 
sequences, was written by my father, some short while 
afterwards, for a manuscript magazine circulating among 
a few friends and relations. It has never, to my know- 
ledge, been printed before, and may therefore be here re- 
produced. It bears the, at first sight, ambiguous title 
of "In Memoriam," and it must be borne in mind that 
it was penned almost twenty years ago, when ballooning 
was a very different matter from what it is at the present 


A First Balloon Ascent 

I left this world about 5.15 on August 2oth, 1888. 

The above announcement, in that it reads only too 
like an incident that must come into every life, needs 
further explanation, for my departure from earth dif- 
ered from that of most in the fact that I came back again . 

The event I proceed to relate was one that I had 
fondly looked forward to for many years. Indeed, 
I may say it was the realization of the earnest wish 
of half a lifetime. Never more eager than I did 
sailor-boy " whistle to the morning star." And 
not even Kingsley himself among the primeval 
forests could cry with truer enthusiasm " At last ! " 
than did I on a summer evening as I floated at a vast 
height over the heart of mighty London, the roar 
up from ten thousand streets ringing in my ears, and 
the feeling that ten times ten thousand eyes were 
centred on the little craft that bore me. 

A balloon voyage worthy of the name is not al- 
together an easy matter to arrange. It is easy 
enough to pay your footing and secure a seat in an 
ordinary ascent at any gala gathering, where the 
aeronaut has based his estimate on getting to earth 
again as soon as he is fairly out of sight, and so you 
find your trip terminate somewhere the other side 
of the next parish. But this was not a voyage, in my 
eyes. So I sought the assistance of perhaps the best 
man then before the public, Captain Dale, the aero- 
naut of the Crystal Palace Company, and a distin- 
guished pupil of the great Coxwell himself. He 
readily entered into the spirit of my proposed enterprise. 

He was making ordinary ascents from the Crystal 
Palace every week, and we soon arranged that we 
should wait for a full moon and, if conditions favoured, 
stay aloft and pursue our voyage through the night 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

until, as we agreed, we sighted the sea somewhere. 
On the day decided on his engagement required him 
to make his ascent at 5 p.m., and I therefore re- 
paired to the Palace gardens early in the afternoon 
to witness the process of filling and other prepara- 
tions ; for the balloon set apart for us had a capacity 
of 80,000 cubic feet and would require four hours for 

If any one looked like business that day I rather 
fancy I did : clad in a mackintosh, though the day 
was lovely, and straw hat, and wearing a satchel 
over my shoulder containing a good square meal, in 
case of emergency. However, on attempting to 
step over the balloon enclosure a policeman obstin- 
ately interfered, with a large amount of customary 
bluster, and would nohow be convinced that I meant 
going up. Bobby took some talking to, and when 
I had presently won his confidence I took him to task 
for his behaviour. " Well," he pleaded, " we have 
to speak sharp. When it comes to the start you'll 
see there'll be twenty of us here, and then we shan't 
keep the crowd back." But when it did come to the 
start the balloon herself kept her own ground clear, 
as I shall show. 

At the time of my arrival a large portion of the 
space within the enclosure was spread with a tum- 
bled heap of silk and netting, in the centre of which 
an excrescence was rising, in shape like a mushroom. 
It was not a little difficult to conceive that that inert 
and shapeless mass would presently grow into a mon- 
ster that would carry five men, and all their baggage, 
away into the skies. But the filling was really going 
on apace. The skipper himself soon made his 
appearance, dressed like a naval warrant officer. 


A First Balloon Ascent 

Captain Dale was a short, powerfully built man of 
thirty or so, full of life and energy, with a keen grey 
eye and jovial manner. He was full of spirits about 
our venture, for he had made some two hundred 
ascents, but never one that promised better luck. 
The upper currents, if they kept steady for two hours 
more, would carry us over the very heart of London, 
a piece of good fortune which had never happened 
before in his experience. " And what do you think 
of the weather, Captain ? " I asked. His manner 
of answering the question struck me. Craning his 
neck backwards and shading his eyes, he bent his gaze 
steadily on the light drifting haze far, far up. That 
was the point of the sky that most concerned him. 
" All is clear for 6,000 feet, if the clouds don't come 
up." That was the great question, and none could 
answer it, for that was the exceptionally wet summer 
we all remember, and no day was to be trusted. 

Meanwhile the mushroom grew on and began to 
gather its skirts into shapely proportions. Pre- 
sently there was a smell of gas and the Captain put 
his nose down and sniffed the gale, and all his little 
pack likewise put down their noses, and following the 
scent we soon found a small rent in the silk through 
which gas was escaping. This was a mishap, and 1 
watched with something more than curiosity how it 
was to be met. Apparently it was nothing new or 
unexpected, for Mrs. Dale (who I believe generally 
attended her husband's ascents) promptly appeared 
from somewhere and sticking on a patch proceeded 
to execute a makeshift job with needle and thread. 
The reason of my mentioning this incident will be 
apparent in due course. 

But the mushroom was growing into a pear, and 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

already it had lifted from the ground and was holding 
higher yet and higher some gigantic letters which 
now spelt out the word " Victoria." Moreover it no 
she was growing wayward, and the Palace men began 
to swarm round her and hook on bags of ballast which 
she would tug at and drop and then tug up again. 

And now there came on the scene another member 
of the Dale family, Tommy, a merry, mischievous 
little boy of six, who busied himself in energetically 
poking in the silk with his fingers to see it puff out 
again. Then it did occur to me that Tommy's 
finger nails were very likely sharp, while the silk had 
been shown already to be somewhat rotten. So I 
tried to engage Tommy in conversation. I started 
such topics as should stimulate the interest of a boy 
of his years ; but they seemed beneath Tommy's 
notice. At last, trying to edge him away from the 
balloon, I asked with affected animation, " How 
would you like to go in a balloon yourself another 
day ? " "I've been up three times ! " he replied, 
and with that took to poking away at the silk more 
vigorously than before. 

It was now within an hour of the start, and we 
began more anxiously than ever to scan the sky. 
The only certain indication was that the wind which 
had been for some time rising would soon blow stiffly, 
and worse than that, in gusts. Then our little party 
began to muster. A train had just come in, bringing 
down from his house in town a young Berkshire 
squire whom I had induced to make the voyage with 
me. He was one of those sporting characters who 
are always ready for any new enterprise, one who 
had shot big game of all kinds in jungle and back- 
woods, and had had many an adventure both afloat 

A First Balloon Ascent 

and ashore. He was greatly bitten with my pro- 
posed voyage through the skies, but having lately 
taken one of his own farms in hand declared he could 
not afford it. However, I, his tempter was constantly 
by his side and ever whispered wicked words. 
" Hang it ! " he said at last with emphasis, " I'll see 
if I can't sell a pig and come." And so there he was, 
and he looked a happy man. There was also another 
semi-professional, who was taking this opportunity 
of gaining experience and at the same time of render- 
ing valuable assistance. 

And now I bethought me of anxious friends. 
Were many dear hearts palpitating on my account ? 
I couldn't be sure. Could I afford them one grain 
of consolation ? Very likely. So I wrote a hurried 
post card to a favourite brother. I appealed to the 
tender feelings of my now friendly Bobby. Into his 
massive palm, that had so often succoured his fellow- 
man ! I dropped my post card, likewise a shilling. 
He put the latter into his pocket, while I besought 
him in faltering accents to put the former in a Palace 
pillar box " when I was 1 gone." He stoutly promised 
that he would ; perhaps he did. If so, it must be 
there still, for it has never reached. 

Hitherto I have said nothing of any other folks 
there that day. There were, however, 20,000 of 
them. It was a great temperance demonstration, 
the most noteworthy feature of which seemed to me 
to be the very large number of intoxicated people 
taking part in it. They were moving our way now, 
and began buzzing round us like a swarm of flies ; 
there were the bluebottles too. You could see dozens 
of them edging their way forward to keep the crowd 
back from the balloon. 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

But who was going near it ? Restive and im- 
patient of the gusts that battled with it, it was lurch- 
ing and swooping and sweeping the ground around 
us, and even the score of old hands who were in 
charge had to put out all they knew. Then the car, 
which had been at some distance, was brought up 
and cleverly run into the spot where a perfect tangle 
of ropes, moored to a pile of sandbags, still kept the 
giant in check. A heap of these bags were tumbled 
into the car, and then the Captain shouted, "If you 
mean going, stand ready ; watch your chance and 
run in between the ropes." 

A moment later the chance came. There were 
only twenty yards to clear, and the walls of the car 
were but four feet high, but the risk lay in the sawing, 
straining cordage. In a trice my companion and I 
had sprung inside, when a dozen voices yelled, " Lie 
down " and not without cause. To have raised one's 
head just then would have involved decapitation. 

And so for many minutes the scion of an ancient 
family and a quiet country parson lay huddled to- 
gether at the bottom of a sort of old clothes basket 
in a manner as little dignified as can well be imagined. 
" Eyre," I said quietly, " I should rather like some of 
our Berkshire friends to see you just now." I could 
feel him shaking with suppressed laughter, but his 
only answer was a groan, for his legs were far too 
long for such cramped quarters, and besides, those 
sandbags were cruelly hard against our ribs. 

Of what was going on around us we could only 
guess. We were being rudely shaken about, while 
outside we heard only the shuffling of many feet and 
the laboured lugging and tugging of men as they 
struggled with the straining gear. Through it all 


A First Balloon Ascent 

the Captain's voice was heard ordering, encouraging, 
occasionally denouncing ; always in earnest, particu- 
larly so as, with a "Look out, there, "he and two others 
jumped in pell-mell upon us. 

That was our release, for we could now raise our 
heads, as the ropes were all taut and in place. 
Then there was no more delay, for bag after bag was 
handed out, till the huge craft seemed but a feather- 
weight. " Out with one more ! " and so we were 
free and away. 

Now I will solemnly aver that from this moment 
till we came to ground again, we, in our little world, 
never stirred or swayed. Down and away fell the 
earth to a vast depth, and then began revolving be- 
neath, but we never moved, nor, for us, did even the 
faintest breeze blow. People may assert the contrary, 
but I was there, and must know best. It was now 
that the crowd got their chance, and used it in a lusty 
cheer. It was un-English not to respond, so the voy- 
agers stood up and cheered back. One, however, did 
not rise, but kicked and struggled, and what he 
shouted was not " Hurrah." 

This individual was myself. In the confusion 
the anchor had slipped behind my back and now had 
penetrated my leather wallet, riddling its contents 
and harpooning me like a whale, until I was rescued 
by my companions. It was now apparent why the 
man of so many voyages was so jubilant over this 
one. It was impossible to tell till we were actually 
away where our true course would lie. In fact, there 
had appeared some risk of our fouling the great water 
tank on our left. But there was no longer a shadow 
of a doubt. Our line was straight for London, pro- 
bably somewhere over the City. 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

Southward the grounds we had just quitted were 
closing up in narrowing perspective, the 20,000 had 
frittered away into a handful of stragglers. And 
the Surrey suburbs, looking their freshest and fairest 
in the mellow evening light, were opening up below 
us, while right ahead, and looming large and larger, 
pile on pile, the vast grey masses of the Capital of the 

And nearer fast and nearer, 
Do the red brick walls come. 

And louder still and yet more loud, 
From underneath yon rolling cloud, 
Is heard the City's rumbling proud, 
The trampling and the hum. 
And plainly and more plainly 
Now through the gloom transpires, 
Far to left, and far to right, 
In broken gleams of yellow light, 
The long array of chimneys bright, 
The long array of spires. 

Then out spoke our bold Captain 

" This won't do," he said. " The Palace balloon 
must go a lot higher over London." " Luff," he 
cries, and puts the helm hard a-port. This is what 
you would suppose he would have done. What he 
really did was to empty half a bag into empty space. 
As he did so we saw to our dismay a stone go plunging 
down. What billet that stone found it is vain to 
inquire, but a few weeks afterwards there was an 
indignant letter in the " Standard " from some 
suburban householder, complaining that he had had 
his roof smashed by a stone from Captain Dale's 
balloon. But blame did not really attach to him. 
According to the contract, it was the Palace Company 
that had to supply the ballast and were answerable 
for what was in it. 



See page 157 


Page 159 

A First Balloon Ascent 

Soon we came up with familiar features. Ken- 
ning ton Oval was one of the first of these. There 
were tiny lambs gambolling about on it, and so some 
one remarked. But Eyre knew better. " That's a 
cricket match," he said, and he was right. Presently 
we saw the field change over and a couple of runs 
made. Then the play stopped. What was up ? 
A glance through a field-glass settled the point. By 
general consent the match had been suspended, and 
it was we who were the observed of all observers. 
Then a cheer came ringing up. It was meant for 
us, and we waved our acknowledgments and passed 

The next notable feature of course was the river. 
A truly noble sight. Yes, to us Father Thames was 
in truth a noble river. What was it to us if his banks 
were unsavoury and his flood were mud ? From our 
point of view his surface mirrored only the sunlit 
sky, and up and down, to us, his stream was all pure 
silver, and innocent of cats. Low-lying Lambeth 
looked almost lovely, her Palace part of Paradise 
let us hope it is. Westminster, of course, was very 
conspicuous, so also was the huge unlovely roof at 
Charing Cross. But it was downstream, below the 
Docks, below where the Tower stands proudly, that 
Thames stretched out his grandest reach. Sweep 
away the bricks and mortar, and where in all England 
would you find so fair a valley ? 

We were eager to see the point where we should 
cross the river, nor had we long to wait. Just west- 
ward of Blackf riars Bridge we shot across, and sailed 
above the chimney-pots of Ludgate Hill close under 
(I mean over) St. Paul's, whose cross was dwarfed 
to the humble level of the streets. There was no 

The Record -of an Aeronaut 

haze nor a trace of smoke that lovely summer evening, 
and every detail of the great capital lay mapped out 
below us as sharply as Bacon himself would trace 
it. What a sight, and what a rare chance was ours ! 
Yet it was the sound that was the more impressive. 
We had long heard the roar from the streets, but now 
the big diapasons were all open and the swell full on. 
The only epithet I can use is " indescribable." 

In two respects the appearance oi the streets was 
remarkable. They were not nearly so closely 
crowded as to passengers they seem to be, and the 
traffic, what there was, seemed scarcely moving. 
But one could grasp as never before what were 
the lungs of London and what her arteries. For 
Oxford Street had lost its title to the name ; it was 
the Oxford highway now. The Northern tramways 
were the ways towards York and Cambridge, and 
Piccadilly was the Bath Road. And there were those 
greater arteries that carry England's life-blood to and 
from her heart. We struck them now, three at once, 
over Euston, St. Pancras, and King's Cross, along 
which latter line one of the company's splendid 
trains, going north, was trumpeting. 

At length we were out over the open country, the 
first time since the start ; the last trace of cockneyism 
being the Alexandra Palace, into the grounds of which 
we could have thrown a stone, provided there had 
been another to throw. We were traversing Hert- 
fordshire, and here in its own way the northern side 
of London has as many beauties as the Surrey side. 
Rich pastures everywhere, chequered with the last 
of a late hay harvest ; on all sides country houses 
with extensive parks. We could trace the plan of 
their lawns and gardens as we passed over. From one 


A First Balloon Ascent 

of these the barking of a dog came up with strange 
distinctness. Presently my ears were filled with a 
sighing murmur as of the distant sea. Then it ceased ; 
after a little while it came again, clearer and fuller. 
Then I discovered the cause. Down below lay a 
large wood, and the leaves stirred by a now boisterous 
wind were whispering up at us. They had a message 
which they were telling but too truly. At first our 
little party had been chatty, not to say jovial. But 
of late our spirits had flagged considerably, and there 
was a reason why. We could see nothing of the sky 
overhead. Above us was our own stately ship, ap- 
parently so motionless ; through the open mouth we 
could look up into the great cavern where the misty 
gas lay slumbering. We could see the graceful out- 
line of silk and rigging sharp against a now dark 
background, and we had misgivings that it hid from 
view what we should far less like to see ; for the 
whole horizon had been growing dark with cloud, 
darkest where we were drifting. We had long lost 
our bearings, nor could we tell to a county where 
we might be. 

Presently " rattle, rattle " against the silk over- 
head told that a sharp shower was falling. We looked 
in one another's faces, for we knew what showers 
meant that summer. Some one hazarded a remark, 
" We're under shelter here, anyhow." But the Cap- 
tain smiled grimly as he replied, " Every drop that 
falls on the balloon will reach us here presently." 
Of course it would. Then another relapse into silence, 
which I think was next broken by " Whoop, whoop," 
on our right, and a wreath of white smoke was seen 
wriggling through the valley, caterpillar-like. The 
region we were over was too thickly wooded to allow 
L 161 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

of our recognizing any certain landmarks, and all 
we knew was that we were about to cross a line of 
rail. Shortly two or three houses came in sight. 
" We had better learn where we are," said the Cap- 
tain, and gave a hard tug at the valve-rope. Up 
surged the great earth till within two or three hundred 
yards, when it approached no nearer. The skipper 
had manipulated his craft most deftly, but straight- 
way his reason seemed to forsake him. There was 
not one solitary human being to be seen. What 
we did see were flocks of sheep and herds of cattle 
that bolted as we swooped down. Never have I 
seen cattle bolt like that, positively bursting through 
thick hedges in excess of terror; but no herdsman 
was there, nor a living soul. No doubt when cattle 
are frightened you should speak to them, and Dale 
did speak to them in the form of a question. 
Leaning over the car and putting his hand to his 
mouth, in clear ringing tones he asked, " Where are 
we ? " We chid him for his folly, but instantly a 
score of human voices shouted back in lusty chorus 
" Hatfield ! " The old aeronaut knew his business. 
It was raining smartly, so smartly that even the 
yokels were under cover, but we ought to have known 
that the eyes of the whole countryside were on us. 

Now Hatfield is a principal station on a great 
main line. In an hour later we might be out over 
the fens, where we could not find so much as shelter 
through a drenching night. " Gentlemen," said 
our Captain gravely, " I'm afraid the game is up. 
I never saw so bad a sky. We'd better land where 
we can, and try again a better night." His logic was 
unanswerable, and we sadly gave assent. 

Then followed an exhibition of skilful manoeuvring 

A First Balloon Ascent 

it was a treat to witness. We could read in the old 
voyager's face that he felt he had his work cut out, 
and in real truth he had. We were on the outskirts 
of Lord Salisbury's park, which are not only thickly 
wooded but consist for the most part of small mea- 
dows surrounded by forest trees ; while our balloon 
was flying faster than a horse could trot. " Keep 
cool," cried our pilot, " and do just what I tell you." 
Then he made us all rise and hold each a bag of ballast 
with its mouth open and ready for prompt use. 

A further discharge of gas brought us down to the 
level of the trees, and we should have infallibly fouled 
a big elm but for a couple of hatfuls of sand smartly 
dropped by one of us. Clearing the topmost boughs, 
we got a view of the next field, a meadow of about 
two acres with tall trees at the further end. In a 
moment Dale decided to try his luck, and opened 
the valve to the full, which brought us down with a 
swoop. Quick as thought, but cool as ever, he laid 
his hand on my shoulder, emphasising his one word 
" Now ! " I dropped my allotted portion some- 
thing like a hot potato and in a moment we righted 
and shot up again. The next moment I was caught 
by the arm and drawn against the rigging with a 
sharp wrench. The anchor had been thrown out 
while I was busied with the ballast, and I was en- 
tangled in the cable. Dale had scarce time to liberate 
me when he shouted, " Look out, all ! Sit down ! " 
Never did I sit down like that! With a jolt that 
tested every joint of one's backbone we plumped 
down on the turf, and instantly bounded up again to 
the full length of the cable. This was repeated again, 
and a third time the car bumped down, and then lay 
still. The monster that had carried us lay writhing 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

its length along the grass, trying to rise, but unable 
to do so so long as we kept our seats. 

Then shouts were heard, and in a moment several 
rustics burst through the hedge and made for us, 
some in their shirt sleeves, one with a pitchfork, all 
intensely excited. Their leader, a man of upwards 
of sixty, was simply beside himself. He had run as 
fast as the youngest, and was out of breath to the 
point of collapse. Still with his hand to his chest 
he rattled on in broken sobs, " Who ever knowed a 
thing like this ! To think of my living to see this 
happen on my farm ! Lor, what a sight you was, 
to be sure ! " But our Captain had an eye for busi- 
ness, and cut in, " Look here ; you've a horse and cart 
somewhere, and I must have it. What will you 
want ? " " Ah ! you may well ask. I'm broken- 
winded now for life, and you'll have to pay for that ; 
then there's my hayrick getting wet, that'll be another 
five shillings " ; and so on. Dale put some money 
in his hand and bade him be quick with his cart, while 
quickly and cleverly, with the assistance of the rest, 
the silk was emptied, folded, and packed in its car. 
Then our little party broke up, and I think the 
" good-byes " were spoken by each with the feeling 
that we had been comrades for an hour or two in a 
little venture that would not quickly drop out of 

When I got home, and for days after, I was evidently 
fair game for everybody. One's friends said some- 
thing smart and strangers passed me with a smile, 
and little boys at street-corners in groups pointed 
over their shoulders as I passed and said, "That's 
he as went up in a b'loon." 

The foregoing simple narrative is a tribute, as its 

A First Balloon Ascent 

title testifies, to the memory of the chief actor in 
our little enterprise. On the 2gth of June, 1892, 
Captain Dale, in company with three others, including 
his son (not Tommy), embarked on an ascent from 
the Crystal Palace in a craft utterly unfit for service. 
After rising a few hundred feet a rent occurred low 
down in the envelope, which quickly split up its 
whole length. In that fatal emergency Dale did all 
that lay in man's power to do. He threw out every 
thing in the car down to his own coat, and so far 
successfully that his son and one other, though 
badly hurt, survived. But he lost his own brave 
life in that terrific descent. His wife was witness 
of the tragedy. 

Lightly lie the turf above him ! 
Earth will restrain him never more. 




THE fact of Bacon's balloon ascent did indeed, as 
he has said, enhance his importance in local circles, for 
it must be remembered that in those days the present 
fashion for ballooning, which he himself certainly started, 
was a thing of the distant future ; and no one (with very 
rare exception) ever even dreamed of making a voyage 
in cloudland. But soon there arose other and widely 
different cause for attention to be directed to him, so 
that before six months were out his name was in every 
mouth, and his latest achievement was* the one topic of 
the entire neighbourhood. 

To understand rightly the next important episode in 
my father's life it is necessary to recall the times in which 
it occurred, and to reconstruct (no easy task) the mental 
atmosphere of eighteen years ago. Thought has moved 
apace in these latter times, and to read to-day of the 
battles that then raged under the banners of " Science " 
and " Faith," the fiery theological onslaughts, the answer- 
ing heavy artillery of Huxley's " Nineteenth Century " 
articles and the like, is to marvel that so much breath 
and acrimony (and ink) should have been expended over 
the slaying of the already slain, and frequently to wonder 
vaguely what all the fighting was about : so many an 
outwork, wildly contested on both sides as the key to 
the whole position, is now wholly abandoned as of no 
importance whatever ; so many a so-called bulwark 
over which the wordy battle has surged to and fro is now 


An Unconventional Cleric 

tacitly conceded with scarce a thought. Perhaps it is 
tolerance, perhaps indifference, perhaps greater wisdom, 
that is to thank. Be that as it may, the noise of warfare 
has faded into distance, the weapons have been laid 
aside, and Peace spreads her wings once more over the 
deserted battlefield. 

It was far otherwise half a generation ago. The fight 
was then at its fiercest, and it was altogether impossible 
that a man of Bacon's nature and temperament should 
fail to find himself in the thick of it. As has been already 
stated, my father in his college days had been a personal 
friend of Clifford, and the influence of that fearless 
thinker had effect upon him which later years but served 
to ripen and develop. The love of science was born and 
bred in him, and though, until now, his tutorial work, 
his own troubles and ill-health, and his voluntary labours 
for others, had in turn prevented him from actual re- 
search, he read largely and widely and kept himself 
abreast of current scientific discovery and thought. In 
1888 he became a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical 
Society, and about this time he exchanged the small 
telescope he had long possessed for a serviceable 4^ 
refractor, which he mounted equatorially in an observa- 
tory on high ground above the house. The observatory, 
from its brick foundation to its ingeniously sliding roof, 
was entirely his own construction, as was the equatorial 
mounting of the telescope and the mechanism which 
drove it. Later he added a reflector to his equipment, 
and then he took to speculum grinding. With the aid 
of a home-designed and home-made machine he ground 
and polished, all through one winter, a twelve-inch 
mirror which he subsequently silvered and mounted in 
a second and larger observatory added (with a dark 
room) to the first. 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

These observatories, I recall, were put to many other 
than their original purposes. They were connected with 
the house by a home-made telephone, and in warm wea- 
ther we turned them into a sort of glorified summer 
house. We children learned our lessons in them, my 
father made them his study, and once, when the house 
was crowded, he and his little son passed the night there 
in hammocks slung from the roof. This, however, by the 
way. They served their legitimate use on many a frosty 
winter evening and clear summer night when Bacon spent 
long and happy hours with his telescopes, making stellar 
observations, but more especially sketching lunar detail, 
a work for which his equipment seemed best fitted, with 
results that he published from time to time in scientific 
journals. They were also the scene of frequent im- 
promptu astronomical lessons to friends and neighbours, 
who came to have their first glimpse of the heavenly 
bodies through a telescope, and were duly impressed or 
disappointed according to the expectations they had 
formed. " It only looks like a lot of old mortar ! " was 
the rather disgusted comment of one of the ringing team 
on the scarified countenance of our satellite. 

Through astronomical work and meetings, as well as 
by wide reading, Bacon was growing ever more in actual 
touch with the scientific world, their methods of thought 
and labour ; and infallibly there began to arise in his 
mind comparisons between them and the clerical world 
with which he had, up till now, been so much thrown in 
contact. The difference in those days appeared to him 
sufficiently striking. 

In sharp contrast to the spirit of patient, humble in- 
quiry and cautious utterance on the one hand, he heard 
not seldom the dogmatic assertion of ecclesiasticism 
hurled with anathemas at the so-called unbeliever. In 


An Unconventional Cleric 

place of the prudent statements, delivered only after 
laborious investigation and thought, was too often the 
rash dogmatism of ignorance. Bacon's blood boiled 
when, at a certain meeting of the Clerical Club to which 
he then belonged, the assembled parsons discussed the 
position of Hell, and fixed it comfortably to their own 
satisfaction, and in accordance, so they said, with latest 
scientific discovery, in the centre of the earth. Be it 
remembered always that this was in the " eighties," that 
Bacon lived in a sleepy part of the southern counties 
where change was slow to penetrate and old traditions 
lingered. Be it conceded that there were, even then, 
and in high places also, splendid examples in the way of 
church dignitaries who had really conformed to altered 
conditions and placed themselves in line with modern 
thought and tendency. Nevertheless it has to be owned, 
on the other hand, that these pioneers were greatly in the 
minority and regarded askance by their own side ; that 
instead of trying to understand and adapt themselves 
to the change which increased knowledge was bringing 
in conditions of thought, clerics too often made the fatal 
mistake of merely ignoring or, worse, fiercely denouncing 
such change ; that a spirit of intolerance was abroad, 
and that, above all, the spell of a rigid conventionalism 
was upon the whole Church, paralysing any effort that 
might be made to move forward, be it never so little, 
with the times. 

Under such restraint Bacon began to grow restive, and 
grew ever more so as time went on. He believed himself 
in a false position, and the thought was intolerable to 
him. Narrow clerical trammels, and they were narrow 
indeed in those days, were growing very irksome, and 
the day came at length when he felt he was right to cast 
them aside. But there should be no mistake as to the 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

reason for his action. He wished to vindicate his attitude 
to the world, and he chose his own method of doing so. 
One day the Clerical Club aforementioned met at his own 
house, and my father took the opportunity of reading 
them a paper of an unwonted and unwelcome description. 
Putting, by way of conceit, the words in the mouth of 
his famous namesake Roger, and speaking as the ghost 
of that much persecuted scientist yet among them, he 
pointed out how the same spirit of intolerance to new 
truths of which he must accuse them was the same which 
had betrayed the clerical world into much grievous error 
in the past, even to the torture of a Galileo and the burn- 
ing of a Bruno, and would surely do so again, did they not 
realize, before it was too late, that certain of the teachings 
of the Church, unless they were to become a mere dead 
letter, must, as all other teaching, move with the times. 
As was but natural, so daring a statement, daring at least 
for those days, emanating from one of their own cloth, 
caused some little fluttering of the clerical dovecote, 
and Bacon was branded as a dangerous man who was 
carrying his eccentricities over far. But worse was to 

At the beginning of the year 1889, Bacon, after seven 
years' work there, definitely severed his connection with 
Shaw, and by so doing closed the chapter of his pastoral 
labours. Simultaneously there appeared, under the title 
of " The Curse of Conventionalism : A Remonstrance, 
by a Priest of the Church of England," a pamphlet from 
his pen, in which he expounded his position and the reasons 
which had led him, after long consideration, to his present 
course. It was a trenchant, possibly a too trenchant, 
indictment of the attitude of the Church towards scientific 
knowledge and thought, written with the fire of righteous 
indignation, almost with the enthusiasm of a rebuking 


An Unconventional Cleric 

prophet. It was addressed to " My Brothers," and 
started with the three postulates or " ominous signs " 
that : 

" Our flocks have grown thinner. 

" That our hold upon them is less and ever lessening, 

" That the old faith is being boldly challenged. 

And went on to enforce and expound as the causes, that 

" The world has progressed, while we have not. 

" That being out of date, we are also out of touch. 

" That neither what we practise nor even what we 
preach bears any true resemblance to what Christ taught." 

For the rest a couple of quotations shall suffice : 

" And why all this sad blunder on our part ? Why 
do we fall back on that marvellous special pleading, 
which a Ballantine might envy, in order to hold our 
position ? Few things distress me more. Beyond mea- 
sure I wonder at the elasticity that divines discover in 
their text, and the surpassing ingenuity with which they 
can make white read like black, but most profoundly do 
I distrust both. And in Heaven's name why are we in 
this false position ? We are taunted with being * literal 
but illiterate,' and is not this true ? And in consequence, 
are we not doing untold mischief to our high cause ? Is 
it not we, and not the Book, that has been in error? 
Would not this error be avoided if only we were a little 
more modest and humble minded, a little less bigoted 
and dogmatic ? " 

And again, further on : 

" But what of our general attitude ? Is a desperate 
attempt at reconcilement so imperative that it should 
be made at any risk to truth ? Is it wise that our teachers 
of religion should try to cover a bad position by reckless 
statements on points of which, as a body, they are pro- 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

foundly ignorant ? Can it be well, for instance, that 
they should go about with the ready falsehood that 
' Darwinism has broken down,' when it was never more 
firmly established ? Or the old platitude that ' all 
men, savages included, naturally believe in a future life,' 
when recent authorities tell us, on the contrary, ' that 
whole nations, constituting from first to last the immense 
majority of the human race, have had none of these 
ideas.' Ignorance will not excuse the perversion of fact. 
. . . But I am wellnigh out of patience. As matters stand 
I see I am not properly one of you and will not pretend 
to be. I will admit no compromise, for I must be wholly 
loyal or withdraw. For the present at least I must stand 
out, and if only my doing so be properly understood I 
shall not regret the wrench." 

The publication of this pamphlet was as the bursting of 
a bombshell in that quiet neighbourhood. Bacon had 
foreseen that it would be so. Sympathetic friends, 
knowing of his purpose beforehand, had warned him that 
social ostracism would be the result, and even urged upon 
him the expediency of leaving a place where he would 
infallibly incur great unpopularity. It was indeed a 
daring and fearless step to take, but Bacon had the 
strength of his convictions, with a holy horror of all 
insincerity and humbug, and it seemed to him that nothing 
short of such public expression would satisfy his con- 
science and make clear his standpoint. A perfect tor- 
nado of anger, horror, indignation, and pained surprise 
uprose and for a time engulfed him. One brother cleric 
wrote begging that he might be allowed to buy up the 
whole edition of this dangerous work and destroy it ; 
others attempted more or less feeble replies. Grave elders 
strove to overawe him by the weight of years and ex- 
perience, and self-confident youths to silence him with 


An Unconventional Cleric 

specious argument and invective. So keen was the feel- 
ing excited that Bacon felt constrained to explain himself 
yet further, and did so fearlessly in a crowded public 
lecture in Newbury town hall. Socially he was for a 
while under a cloud. His name was struck off certain 
visiting lists, sundry acquaintances ceased to patronize 
his annual garden-party, a few eyes became short-sighted 
when he passed. But he cared not a scrap. The few 
friends he lost (and those only for the time) were more than 
atoned for by the very many he gained. From all over 
the country came letters of sympathy and appreciation, 
and thanks for his outspoken courage, which had voiced 
the silent opinions of earnest thinkers; and on the strength 
of the little pamphlet more than one lasting friendship 
was made. 

Henceforward Bacon gave up his clerical work, and 
with it the conventional coat and collar of his calling. 
Nevertheless, although he never resumed the latter out- 
ward signs of his profession, he did not wholly abandon 
duty. True, he scarcely ever preached again. "I am 
waiting for the time when I can have a lantern screen 
stretched across the chancel arch, and a photograph of 
the Orion Nebula, or some other glory of the heavens, to 
talk about," he would declare. But brother clerics in 
distress could ever rely upon his ready services, and special 
friends count on his help at Church festivals and the 
like. Bacon was always a Churchman, in the highest 
sense of the word, all his life. If his beliefs and aspira- 
tions had been less real to him than they were he would 
not have striven so hard to free them from the fettering 
bonds of conventionalism and insincerity. 

Now that Bacon's work at Shaw was at an end he 
had more time to spend on other things, to start new 
interests and to improve on old ones. A good portion 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

of each summer was still devoted to the Cottage Show, 
which year by year developed fresh features until it 
became an absolutely unique function, as popular as it 
was unusual. As the best way of illustrating Bacon's 
originality and fertile fancy in this direction, let us briefly 
recall the scene at one of these alfresco village entertain- 
ments, held about this time. 

The bills advertising the Coldash Show of 1892 con- 
tained, in addition to the usual notices, the startling 
announcement of an important archaeological discovery. 
Experts, it was stated, had lately determined the site, in 
the grounds of Sunnyside, of an ancient battlefield, 
probably of Plantagenet date. The occasion of the 
Cottage Show, held on the very spot, would be taken 
advantage of for the opening of the barrow, when im- 
portant discoveries might be anticipated. 

So interesting and mysterious a statement naturally 
excited much local curiosity, which combined with a 
fine afternoon to draw a record concourse of visitors, who 
duly inspected the flowers, vegetables, cats, donkeys, 
and other exhibits, found pleasure (not being over- 
critical) in the performance of the rustic band, and 
regarded with half-incredulous anticipation the barrow, 
represented by a carefully roped-off space of perfectly 
clear ground in front of the observatories. 

The hour arrived, and the expectant crowd, grouped 
round the ropes, made the acquaintance of the great 
archaeologist, Professor Bosch, introduced to them by 
Bacon as the authority on whose advice the tumulus 
was to be explored. The professor, a venerable gentle- 
man with long white beard and loose flowing coat, 
explained at some length, and speaking with a strong 
German accent, the various circumstances which had 
led him to his present opinion regarding the existence of 

An Unconventional Cleric 

the ancient battlefield, and finally indicated the precise 
spot where the excavations should be commenced. 

Bacon, who had been listening indulgently, yet half 
incredulously, to the expert's tirade, thereupon gave the 
signal to a couple of navvies with mattock and shovel, 
standing by, to fall to work. It was obvious to every 
one that the portion of grass meadow before them was 
absolutely unbroken and had never been tampered with 
before ; yet the removal of the first sod revealed the 
presence of a number of implements, bones, etc., which 
the professor excitedly declared to be of the twelfth 
century, and exactly confirming his deductions. The 
crowd was now growing interested, and watched the 
digging operations eagerly. The navvies worked with 
a will, and soon achieved a hole of respectable size and 
depth, when one of them, shrieking aloud in terror and 
dropping the shovel from his paralysed hands, suddenly 
collapsed in a dead faint. In a moment Bacon was at 
his side, administering restoratives, striving to calm 
him, and endeavouring to elicit the cause of his fright. 
Utterly unnerved, the poor workman could only stammer 
out, " There be Summat alive down there ! " and relapse 
into fresh convulsions. In vain Bacon assured him that 
such a thing was absolutely impossible. Even as he 
spoke there was a sudden convulsion at the bottom of 
the hole, and there struggled forth, blinking, into the 
daylight the bulky form of a burly monk, rope girdle, 
rosary, and all complete, the earth still hanging about 
the folds of his brown cassock and hood. " Donner und 
Blitzen ! Friar Tuck ! " gasped the professor, falling 
back in amazement before this apparition, and the Friar, 
responding to his name, but still half dazed after his 
seven hundred years incarceration, put his identity 
beyond doubt by inquiring thickly for a mug of ale. 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

This unexpected appearance of a historical character 
half prepared the delighted but much mystified crowd 
for what was coming, and when a tall figure, clad in 
Lincoln green, bow in hand, with horn and baldrick, 
reared himself from the hole, they hailed him with one 
accord as Robin Hood ! 

The greeting between the two outlaws who found 
themselves once more upon their native soil was hearty 
but brief, for the Friar was engaged with his ale, and 
Robin was seized with the keenest desire to go forth 
immediately and shoot red deer. In vain Bacon repre- 
sented to him that red deer were now extinct in that 
part of the world, and he might get himself into trouble 
with the local authorities. There was no staying him, 
and he wandered forth into the field. 
^uThe next person to emerge from the excavation was 
a tall, slight youth, in the garb of a wandering minstrel, 
his " wild harp " (it bore much resemblance to a modern 
ban]o) " slung behind him." To the crowd (who had 
failed to recognize him) he explained that his name was 
Blondel, the same who had rescued the Lion-hearted 
King from his enemies, discovering his place of imprison- 
ment by playing his favourite tune outside the castle 
walls, when the captive answered him from within. 
" Ah ! would that my dear master were with me now," 
lamented the faithful servant. "If he were but near 
he would yet answer to my song." Upon his banjo 
(beg pardon, harp) he struck the familiar notes that to 
the crowd seemed singularly like " Ta-ra-ra-boom-de- 
aye," but this can only have been curious coincidence, 
for on the instant there came from the depths of the 
earth an answering bellow, and the barrow was stirred 
by a perfect earthquake. It has been mentioned before 
that the old Scotch farmer was a man of large propor- 


An Unconventional Cleric 

tions. Encased in sheet-iron and leather, crowned by 
a massive helmet, and encumbered with a sword and 
shield that suggested a tea-tray which had seen better 
days, it was a work of tremendous effort to hoist him 
through the hole. But it was done at last, and Cceur- 
de-Lion himself stood revealed, brandishing right and 
left, and entirely forgetting his part in his excitement. 

A little prompting, however, recalled him to the know- 
ledge that he had important business connected with Sara- 
cens yt to see to in the Holy Land, which it appeared he 
had already over-long delayed. So eager was he to be 
off that, as the best way of appeasing him, one of the 
prize donkeys was requisitioned, on which he was mounted 
and rode off through the crowd under guidance of a police- 
man, who was charged to show him the quickest road 
to Palestine. But suddenly there came the sound of 
advancing music and trampling feet. The local band, 
playing lustily, " What shall he have who killed the 
deer ? " accompanied by a troop of excited rustics, 
were escorting back in triumph Robin Hood, who had 
slain, not a red deer, but the nearest modern equivalent 
he could find a tabby cat. This animal (stuffed) he 
carried with him, and all would have gone well had not 
the Sheriff of Nottingham inopportunely appeared with 
a warrant for Robin's apprehension on the charge of 
shooting game on the royal preserves. It boots not 
further to enlarge upon the subsequent proceedings, when 
the fun waxed fast and furious, nor to relate how Robin 
was sentenced to be hung, but on winding a last blast 
on his horn was rescued by a band of green-clad foresters ; 
how the tables were turned, and the Sheriff came under 
sentence of death, and was forced to plead piteously 
for his life ; how King Richard grew bloodthirsty, and 
wanted personally to behead everybody, down to Friar 
M 177 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

Tuck, now sleeping peacefully in a wheelbarrow, his empty 
mug clasped close to his chest. As a temporary measure 
the cat had just been slung up on the gallows, hastily 
erected, when all too quickly the end came. A sudden 
explosion rent the air, and startled the group happily 
engaged in hanging the cat. A cloud of fire and smoke 
issued from the hole, and this had scarce cleared away 
when there emerged an awesome and grizzly figure of 
coal-black hue ; horns surmounted his terrible head, 
a pitchfork was in his hand, and he trailed behind him 
a long black tail. Certain austere clerics among the 
onlookers affected to look shocked, but the crowd shrieked 
with delight as His Satanic Majesty claimed the truants. 
" Enough of this ! Back you go ! " thundered his dread 
command, and with his fork he drove them shrieking 
down the hole, himself last of all seizing the wheelbarrow 
in which the unconscious Tuck still slumbered, and 
trundling it off the field. 

Only a very few among the onlookers that afternoon 
knew the secret of the mystery by which a dozen men 
had emerged from an unbroken patch of ground in the 
middle of the meadow. These few recalled how, a year 
before, Bacon and a nephew had spent some while in 
digging out an elaborate excavation in the soft sandy 
soil close to the observatories, which hole had grown 
into a veritable cavern, with chambers capable of holding 
several people at a time. Over the entrance the larger 
observatory had subsequently been built, so that the 
opening was entirely concealed from the outside. All 
that was needed, therefore, for the illusion, was to 
further excavate a long sloping passage from the cave 
to within a foot or two of the surface, taking care not 
to disturb the turf, which remained unbroken until the 
occasion itself. The cave, by the way, long remained 


An Unconventional Cleric 

a source of much amusement at Coldash. A visitor, 
after inspecting the observatories, would be startled 
by the pulling open of a trap-door in one corner, reveal- 
ing a black, gaping hole with the top steps of a decaying 
ladder, the end of which was lost in darkness. With a 
little persuasion he might be induced to explore its 
earthy depths, Bacon accompanying him with a lighted 
candle, which somehow, at the end of the tunnel, would 
get extinguished. In the pitch darkness which ensued 
Bacon would take the opportunity of relating how he had 
for some while suspected that the cavern was haunted ; 
and, as if in confirmation of his words, there would begin 
to be audible long low wails and moans, echoing round 
the vault, and coming apparently from another world. 
Somewhat startled, the stranger would turn to find him- 
self alone, and by the time he had groped his way pain- 
fully to the daylight, and found his host, and his host's 
children (who had been blowing down a small lead pipe 
in the outer observatory), laughingly awaiting him at 
the top, he probably desired no further experiences. If 
he did, however, he was set to climb an awkward and 
rickety home-made ladder, leading to a tiny platform 
thirty feet up the flag-pole, from which there hung a 
gigantic speaking-trumpet. The platform was very 
difficult of access, there being little to hold on to, and 
though Bacon to his last days would scale it with the 
utmost ease, the majority of his guests found it a much 
more nerve-shaking experience than the cave, and 
generally cried off before they reached the summit. 

To the writer of these memoirs, writing now of days 
of which she has the vividest recollection, the passing 
years at this period of Bacon's life seem designated and 
characterized by the pursuits and hobbies which filled 
them. This was the winter when he bought the micro- 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

scope, learned how to prepare and mount specimens, 
and fished the upland ponds for their minute denizens. 
This was the summer when photography, now simplified 
by the introduction of the dry plate, was reinstalled in 
favour, and carried to a high pitch of proficiency, ever 
afterwards maintained. That was the spring when he 
learned to bicycle, that the autumn when the billiard - 
table was erected in the old club-room. One year the 
practical study of electricity occupied every spare 
moment. Bacon's Son was now growing to an age when 
the strong mechanical bent he inherited began to indi- 
cate in which direction his future career should lie. 
True to his acknowledged principles, his father laboured 
to assist him to the utmost of his power ; and as the 
best possible practice and object-lesson, resolved to 
establish electric light throughout his house at Coldash, 
he and his boy being sole engineers and mechanicians. 
This they most successfully accomplished. The engine 
was built at local works under their personal supervision, 
the boiler erected by their own hands. Together and 
alone they wound the dynamo, set up the cells and wired 
the house, and when all was ready a " thirty-hour run " 
test of twelve-year-old endurance triumphantly in- 
augurated the installation, which for years was main- 
tained by the two amateur electricians in completest 

Perhaps it was the study of electrical matters necessary 
for such a work that first directed Bacon's attention to 
earth currents ; or possibly the realizing that in his 
underground cavern up the field, far away from any 
disturbing influence, he had an ideal observatory for 
their investigation. Certain it is that about this time 
he began to engage himself very busily in gathering 
together all the information available concerning terres- 


An Unconventional Cleric 

trial magnetism, and in conducting experiments on his 
own behalf with the means at his command. A galvano- 
meter, with specially sensitive needle, was placed in 
the cave aforementioned, and in adjacent meadows 
copper earth-plates, duly connected, were sunk in the 
soil. Most careful watch and record was kept of the 
results obtained, and presently we find Bacon writing 
enthusiastically to a brother : 

" I met with a little triumph yesterday in the work 
I have been engaged in for several months. Airy and 
other experimenters have never succeeded in tracing 
earth currents through much less length of line than three 
miles, telegraphic wires being always needed ; but having 
just completed a very delicate instrument, I got a deflec- 
tion of nearly 80 minutes through only no yards ! This 
is probably important, and will fit in with my St. Paul's 
experiments. I must peg away." 

The St. Paul's experiments referred to, and which 
Bacon had recently conducted, arose in this way : 

Delicate instruments for recording the variations of 
the earth's magnetism, consisting essentially of a magnet 
slung by a double thread, and carrying a tiny mirror, 
which reflects a spot of light on to a ribbon of photo- 
graphic paper driven forward by clockwork, thus regis- 
tering every minutest tremor which influences the needle, 
are maintained at the observatories of Kew and Green- 
wich. Nowadays, alas, they waste much of their valuable 
time in recording such banalities as the daily workings 
of the local electric railways and tram lines ; but in the 
year 1890, which is the date of which we are now speak- 
ing, the L.C.C. influences had not attained their present 
wellnigh overwhelming supremacy, and the curious 
differences in the records traced out in the same twenty- 
four hours by identical instruments, stationed only 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

twelve miles apart, was one of the most interesting and 
important results arrived at. 

It occurred to Bacon that records both instructive 
and valuable for comparison might be made at some 
point midway between Greenwich and Kew, and further- 
more it struck him that St. Paul's Cathedral was an ideal 
spot for the purpose. For there in one huge building, 
standing nearly on a straight line between the two 
observatories, five miles from one and eight from the 
other, could be found an admirable subterranean chamber 
in the crypt ; while, with little trouble, another observ- 
ing station might be utilized in the golden Ball, nearly 
four hundred feet vertically above. The more he thought 
oi it the more convinced did he become that the great 
cathedral was the place above all others in which to 
conduct his experiments ; and at last he boldly, if some- 
what doubtfully, approached the late Dean Church, 
who then held sway over St. Paul's, with the request 
that he might be allowed the necessary facilities for his 
observations during a whole summer night, since from 
all considerations it was evident that night hours were 
best suited for his particular purpose. Most courteously 
the Dean granted ready permission, with no further 
restriction imposed than the presence of his own head 
verger ; and accordingly it followed that, late one June 
evening, Bacon, and a young electrical engineer nephew, 
who acted as coadjutor, carrying each their precisely 
similar instruments, constructed on the lines of those 
already described, were admitted by a small side door 
into the vast, silent pile, dark save for one solitary gas 
jet in the dim, far-away choir; totally deserted but 
for the night-watchman, whose muffled footsteps echoed 
ever and anon from distant gallery or aisle. 

Having settled his companion to his work in the crypt 


An Unconventional Cleric 

surely ghost-haunted at that hour ! Bacon laboriously 
conveyed his instruments up the many hundred steps 
that lead, through intricate ways, to the tiny eyrie at 
the very summit of the building which goes by the 
ambiguous title of " the Ball Room." There was a 
touch of the romantic and adventurous about the whole 
proceeding which specially appealed to him, so that he 
oiten afterwards referred to that night as a delightful 
and enjoyable experience, quite apart from its scientific 
value. Perched aloft, a solitary sentinel, far above 
the heads of the sleeping city stretched beneath, he kept 
his pleasant vigil, and by way of passing the hours in 
the intervals of taking ten-minute readings, jotted down 
notes in the form of a letter, which may here be allowed 
to tell its own tale : 

" The hour is near midnight, and I am sitting alone 
on the topmost ladder of St. Paul's Cathedral, my nearest 
companion being Arthur Bacon, who is keeping a like 
solitary watch four hundred feet below me. In a niche 
in the wall beside me I have an instrument comprising a 
delicately suspended compound magnet, whose sensitive 
behaviour has been my constant care for some weeks 
past. It is now from minute to minute telling a tale 
which will, I trust, be of real value to the scientific 
world. Meanwhile I have other things to note. A 
grated window eighteen inches square, half-way up my 
ladder, affords me a view of the great world outside, 
which becomes a complete panorama whenever I mount 
into the narrow stone platform under the great Ball, a 
feat which I perform as often as I feel disposed to meet 
the rude buffeting of a tremendous high-pressure blast 
of cold but most refreshing air. The roar and rattle up 
from the streets below which was so striking two hours ago, 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

now only reaches me as a distant murmur, scarcely more 
noticeable than I heard it two years ago from a balloon 
three thousand feet almost directly above my present 
station. The frequent rail way- whistles, however, are 
borne in from all quarters, and apparently from great 
distances, and every now and then there is the unmistak- 
able horn of a passing bicycle. But the great charm is 
in the fading light and the comparative repose that 
gradually settles down upon the restless city. The rows 
of lamps still map out the well-known thoroughfares 
and trace the bridges, and even here and there show by 
reflected light the flow of Father Thames ; but these are 
but night-lights while London herself has gone to bed, 
and it is my concern to watch till she awaken once again." 

Elsewhere, and in picturesque phrases, Bacon has 
described the striking of midnight as heard that night 
from his lofty coign of vantage : "It was some neigh- 
bouring upstart tower far below me that led off in hasty, 
fussy fashion, rattling through its part alone. This was 
by way of recitative. But St. Paul's broke in reprov- 
ingly, the chimes thundering out of the north-west tower 
as never heard before, followed after a dignified silence 
by the deep full stroke on the tenor, which sent a tremble 
through the air. By this time there was mad frenzy 
everywhere. From every quarter the strike of iron 
tongues mingled in babel indescribable. It was quite 
a long while before all was over and peace restored, and 
even then one or two feebler voices contested queru- 
lously who should have the last word." 

This was the signal when, according to arrangement, 
the observers were to change over, the colleague below 
leaving the crypt at twelve precisely, and allowing 
fiiteen minutes climbing to reach the ball. Almost im- 


An Unconventional Cleric 

mediately after the clocks had finished striking, however, 
Bacon heard his ascending footsteps apparently on the 
flight below, and called out to him, " You are before 
your time ! " To his surprise, no answer was returned 
to this or to another shout some minutes later when the 
footfalls were apparently just at hand. Only after 
another ten minutes, spent by the nephew in steady 
climbing, came the answering " Hallo ! " even then 
from some floors beneath ; for in the quiet of that deserted 
spot, and among the weird echoes of the mighty dome, 
a strange acoustical phenomenon had manifested itself, 
and magnified the sounds from the foot of the stairs, 
despite intervening doors and passages, until they seemed 
actually beside the listener perched at the very summit. 
After this the letter continues : 

" It is now two o'clock, and I have changed places 
with my colleague and taken my turn below among the 
vaults, and a couple of hours have passed pleasantly 
enough in hunting up my old historical friends with the 
aid of a dark lantern. 1 am sorry to say that I found 
my own ancestor, Sir Nicholas, in a very sorry plight, 
broken and dismembered ; it would seem that he has 
found our national Cathedral anything but a sanctuary 
in days gone by. But there go the chimes again, and I 
am due aloft once more to see the sun rise and to com- 
pare our notes of the night. I find my partner has got 
a brave record of the last two hours, and the result of our 
joint observations, when properly reduced, will have to 
be sent to Greenwich and elsewhere. We have now the 
task of packing up our delicate as well as bulky apparatus, 
and getting it down the first awkwardly cramped and per- 
pendicular ladders ; but it is safely accomplished, and 
presently we are standing on the stone parapet watching 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

the first streak of returning dawn far away over the 
G.P.O., which is still one blaze of gas-light from base 
to roof. The freshness of the air and our elevation is 
most refreshing, but we have a long descent to make, 
and we mean to accomplish a photograph in the crypt 
before daylight is upon us. ... Writing the rest of this 
letter from home, I can add that the above-mentioned 
photograph taken in the vault is not yet developed, and, 
knowing well the remarkable property of the camera 
to record appearances that are invisible to the naked 
eye, I am of course prepared to find the picture reveal 
something besides ourselves, and I shall at once under- 
stand it if I see there, say, a military gentleman with 
a classical nose and a one-armed companion. The last 
hour of our sojourn in the Cathedral was devoted to an 
exploring excursion through some of the unknown regions 
of the vast building in company with the watchman of 
the night, who at the outset explained that having only 
been five years nightly on duty he, as yet, knew com- 
paratively little of the endless intricacies of the place. 
This sounded somewhat strangely, but the sober sig- 
nificance of the remark was soon manifest, for a rabbit 
warren would be a mere joke to that stone labyrinth. 
The entire walls seem to be hollow with passage-ways 
running simply everywhere, downwards and upwards, 
crossing and recrossing in all directions, while every 
niche almost is a trap-door and every column a stair- 
case. Chambers and recesses seem without end, and 
often on a lavish scale ; workshops, a mason's yard, 
lead foundries, engine-rooms, museums, libraries, store- 
rooms without number, all included in that stupendous 
pile. The Dean's verger assured us that after thirty 
years he did not know the whole of the building, nor 
probably did any man living. He only knew that it 



An Unconventional Cleric 

would be a week's work to visit every part. Another 
day (or night) I must try again." 

Just a year later, by the way, Bacon passed another 
summer-night vigil under quite different circumstances. 
With an old Newbury friend he made a pilgrimage on 
Midsummer night to Stonehenge, to test photographically 
the story that on the 2ist of June an observer, standing 
on the Altar Stone of that mysterious temple of forgotten 
rites, sees the sun rise exactly over the summit of the 
outstanding monolith, some distance from the rest, 
which goes by the name of the Friar's Heel. The result 
of course but confirmed this well-attested fact, but at 
the same time convinced Bacon of the futility of attempts, 
which have from time to time been made, to arrive at 
the date of Stonehenge by astronomical calculations, 
using exact deductions, based on the very small change 
which has taken place in the tilt of the sun's path since 
the time when the stones were first set up. The mere fact 
that the altar-stone has no mathematical centre is enough 
to render any such task impossible, let alone the certainty 
that the stones have shifted their position in the inter- 
vening centuries. In Bacon's own words : 

" That the peak of the misshapen and unsupported 
pointed stone, some sixteen feet high, should still with 
any accuracy lie in the same line of sight as it originally 
did, would be the greatest marvel of all relating to 

In the autumn of 1892 came a happy enough little 
reminder of past times in the shape of a visit to Cam- 
bridge, where Bacon had not now been for over sixteen 
years. It is the pleasant custom of Trinity College at 
intervals to invite, during vacation, its former members, 
yet on the books, selecting them in groups at a time, 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

according to the years in which they took their degrees, 
to spend a day and night amid the scenes of their youthful 
days. Great pains are taken on these occasions to render 
the reunion as complete and delightful as possible. 
Special service is held in the chapel, a feast given in 
Hall, and when, after long prolonged converse, old friends 
who have not met since college days part at last for the 
night, they go back to sleep in the very rooms they 
occupied as light-hearted, light-limbed undergraduates 
perhaps a generation before. 

It is a pleasant but withal a most pathetic reassem- 
bling, fraught to even the least emotional with how many 
recollections, reflections, and self-examinings. The rows 
of bald and silvered heads are bent low in chapel ; tremu- 
lous voices chant " Auld Lang Syne " as hands are 
gripped round the festive board at the end of the feast. 
All is so changed and yet so unchanged, and the grey 
college walls look down almost mockingly upon the old 
and middle-aged men, bowed with the years that have 
left no trace upon their hallowed stones. 

Bacon took all his family to Cambridge on this occasion, 
and lovingly pointed out to his children each well- 
remembered haunt of bygone days. The gathering itself 
was a particularly brilliant one, since among the guests 
was the Archbishop of Canterbury (Benson), representing 
an older generation, while A. J. Balfour held place of 
honour among the men who were Bacon's own contem- 
poraries. To my father it was a noteworthy event, 
recalling as it did, and under pleasantest circumstances, 
a chapter of his life long since closed. 

And yet another page was shortly to be turned. In 
the autumn of the following year my mother's health 
showed signs of failing, and by the time that winter came 
her family had begun to dread the worst. The end was 

1 88 


An Unconventional Cleric 

mercifully brief. After but three days spent in bed, she 
died, on the 19 th of January, 1894, peacefully in her 
sleep, in the arms of the husband who had so tenderly 
loved her and so devotedly cared for her through the 
twenty- three chequered years of their married life. Never 
was wife more truly or more deeply mourned. That 
beautiful law of life which endears the invalid child to its 
mother more fondly than those strong ones who have 
less need of her care, caused my mother's very depriva- 
tion to bind her but closer to her husband's heart. Most 
sadly he felt her loss, and when at last the long strain of 
fourteen years was relaxed and the object of his watchful 
care removed from him, he seemed to lack the power to 
rally from the blow ; and though he never for a moment 
relaxed his work or activities, it was many months before 
he regained his accustomed energy and spirits. 



IN the summer of 1893 Bacon was asked to accept 
the presidency of a large young men's club in New- 
bury which he himself had had some share in founding. 
Years before, in days when he yet took clerical duty at 
Shaw, his Rector's son, Mr. J. E. Nelson, was busy evolv- 
ing from the chaos of small beginnings a social institution 
for the youths of the neighbouring town which eventu- 
ally assumed concrete form as the " Newbury Guild- 
hall Club/' carefully specified as "non-political, and 

This club grew and flourished exceedingly, mainly 
due to the efforts of the members themselves. Among 
their number was one, Mr. E. J. Forster, whose splendid 
talent for organization, quick enthusiasm, and boundless 
energy, singled him out at once as Honorary Secretary for 
the venture, as it has since then for many more onerous 
positions. Bacon was ever keen to recognize talent 
in others, and in this keen and gifted young man he 
found not a few answering chords to his own ardent 
nature. Infallibly the two became fast friends, and 
their friendship but strengthened and deepened with 
the years that passed over their heads. 

From the first my father had given the Guildhall Club 
his whole-hearted support, for it was a movement 
with which he was altogether in sympathy. No one 


In Search of the Corona 

recognized better than he did the need there is for whole- 
some influence in the lives of the young men of our 
towns tradesmen's sons, shop assistants, mechanics, 
and the like in whose path lie many temptations, and 
whose wants are apt to be overlooked by philanthropists 
labouring for the amelioration of a lower rank of society. 
He saw that the importance of an institution, healthy, 
high-principled, attractive, free from bias, run by the 
young men themselves for their mutual benefit, could 
not be overestimated, and to it he gave all the help in 
his power. After he was unanimously elected presi- 
dent, on the resignation of the founder, his efforts were 
redoubled, until the welfare of his club became one of 
his dearest aims. There was full scope for his enter- 
prise. In the Senior Secretary he had a fellow- worker 
after his own heart, and in almost weekly meetings and 
constant correspondence the two laid their heads to- 
gether for the improvement and aggrandizement of an 
institution, for which it is not claiming too much to say 
that it was soon without its rival, for a town the size 
of Newbury, in the whole south of England. 

This is not a place in which to relate the tale of the 
Guildhall Club's triumphant progress ; of how it secured 
the patronage and interest of the great and influential, 
until even Royalty itself smiled upon it ; of how it ran 
seasons of winter lectures and addresses by the most 
famous men of the time, such as no other institution 
couldj boast ; of how it carried through large photographic 
exhibitions, said by experts to be the best outside London, 
to which the Queen lent her name and the Royal Family 
contributed their own snap-shots ; of how it broadened 
its interests and widened its boundaries, extending always 
new branches in every form of sport, amusement, and 
occupation dear to the youthful male mind. Never, 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

surely, was a more flourishing institution in those days, 
and certainly never a more popular President. 

" Ideal " was the word invariably used in describing 
the relationship between Bacon and the members of his 
beloved club. His winning personality attracted the 
young men to him in a quite extraordinary degree. In 
their presence he became as one of themselves, so that 
differences in age and circumstance seemed completely 
to vanish, leaving him merely their friend and comrade, 
capable of participating in their pleasures, of entering 
into their lives, of rendering ready help in their difficul- 
ties. He delighted to be among them, and some of his 
happiest, albeit his busiest, hours were passed on the 
frequent occasions when he invited the members to his 
home at Coldash, and for a long afternoon and evening 
entertained them after his own most original fashion. 

Among the club's most influential supporters and 
it boasted very many three stood pre-eminent. Two 
of these were those untiring philanthropists, Lord and 
Lady St. Helier, then Sir Francis and Lady Jeune, whose 
country house, Arlington Manor, favourite resort of 
the most distinguished men and women of the day, 
was some three miles from the town. The third was 
Mr. J. N. Maskelyne, the Modern Magician, in those 
days not yet forced to leave the scene of early triumphs, 
ever inseparably connected with his name, the Egyptian 
Hall. The most noteworthy event of that period of 
Bacon's life immediately following the death of my 
mother, was his becoming acquainted with this famous 
man. Mr. Maskelyne at this time had lately become 
possessed of a cottage delightfully situated on the borders 
of Bucklebury Common, one of the healthiest and most 
beautiful spots in the neighbourhood, within a walk of 
Coldash. Here, with his charming wife, he spent his 


In Search of the Corona 

week-ends and brief vacations, and here Bacon first met 
him personally professionally he had long been his 
ardent, though deeply puzzled admirer. From the very 
first the two men became fast friends, drawn together 
as they were by mutual esteem, similarity of tastes, 
and concurrence of opinions. Some one has said that 
the power of entering into close friendship belongs to 
youth alone, and that no man over forty ever becomes 
as truly attached to another as he does in the former half 
of his life. Bacon was a witness to the exact contrary. 
The very fact that circumstances had severed him from 
his early friendships, and for long years hindered him in 
making others, perhaps preserved his friendly instincts 
all the keener. Certain it is that the friends of the last 
dozen years of his life were among his best loved of all, 
and at the head of the list, or very near it, stood Mr. 

In the first months of his widowerhood Bacon wisely 
sought the distraction of travel, and in the summer 
of 1894 took his two children abroad for the first time, 
on a cycle tour in Belgium. This was a few months 
before cycling for ladies came into general vogue, and 
also before pneumatic tyres had fully asserted their pre- 
eminence. The sufferings of the party in endeavouring 
to propel antiquated solid-tyred machines over the 
execrable Belgian chaussees are better imagined than 
described. But they managed to extract no little 
amusement from the experience, as the following letter 
of Bacon's can testify :-- 

" So long as we were anywhere within the outskirts 

of Ostend every one we spoke to replied in fluent French. 

Half a dozen miles out in the country it was very different. 

On our road to Bruges, after about an hour's hard jolting 

N 193 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

alongside one of those endless canals which evidently 
go on for ever, we were overtaken by a thunderstorm, 
and took refuge in the outbuildings of a small farm. 
The farmer came to us, and we explained our plight in 
French, then in English, then we invented words in all 
languages, but it was no use. Then he brought his wife, 
and then all his family, and then his carter ; but they 
only spoke Flemish, and so we stood there for an hour 
gesticulating in dumb show, each party highly amused 
with the other, but wholly devoid of language. Then 
a bright idea struck us that we would take their photo- 
graph, so we unpacked our camera, made them all stand 
out in the rain, and took a snap-shot. In the end I 
brought out a piece of paper, folded it like an envelope, 
drew a rough representation of a postage-stamp in the 
corner, and handed it with a pencil so that they might 
write their address, but to no purpose. They passed it 
round, examined my drawing minutely, upside down and 
all ways, and eventually handed it back with a hopeless 
shake of the head. But we had won their hearts. They 
followed us to the road and waved their adieux as long 
as we were in sight." 

The following summer Bacon fulfilled a long-made 
promise to his fourteen-year-old son, and took him his 
first voyage in the skies. The occasion was a race from 
the Crystal Palace, and Bacon was not a little impressed 
to find that the aeronaut of the rival craft was one of the 
two survivors of the terrible accident which terminated 
the lives of Dale and a passenger over those very grounds 
three years before. Not even that awful experience, 
or the severe injuries he had himself received, had power 
to wean him from his hobby. From his own lips my 
father learned the consoling fact that, although every 
detail of those dread moments of peril and terrific fall 


In Search of the Corona 

were indelibly impressed on his memory, he had no 
recollection whatever of actually reaching the earth 
showing that Nature in such cases proves more merciful 
than we often venture to hope. 

The ascent itself was an ordinary afternoon's voyage, 
undertaken for no sterner purpose than as a pleasant 
experience. Even in those days, however, Bacon was 
on the look-out for acoustical phenomena, and the strange 
spasmodic " yelping " noise, " suggesting a dog just 
underneath the car," of artillery practice on Plumstead 
Marshes a mile below, a sound that on earth is heard as 
a resounding boom, came in for special comment. The 
incidents of the race, skilfully contested on each side, 
afforded valuable object-lessons in the relative speed 
of upper and lower air-currents, the poise of a balloon, 
which never for a single second is in absolute quiescence 
in space, and the tremendous art which lies in such an 
apparently simply act as the discharge of a small quantity 
of ballast. By careful attention to all these details 
alone their craft was enabled to win the race, which 
terminated, after three happy hours, near Rainham 
Creek, in Essex. It was on this occasion that Bacon 
first made the acquaintance of that unrivalled aeronaut, 
Mr. Percival Spencer, his companion and friend in so 
many subsequent aerial adventures. 

In the summer of 1896 there occurred an all-important 
event. On the gth of August of that year a total eclipse 
of the sun took place, visible along a narrow tract of 
earth which ran, for part of its course, across the upper 
portion of Norway. This was the first time for many 
years that the elusive shadow had fallen so near our 
shores, and the newly founded and enterprising British 
Astronomical Association early seized upon the oppor- 
tunity and organized a party of its members to observe 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

the phenomenon. Bacon, who had been interested 
in the Association from its commencement, was one 
of the first to give in his name, with that of his 
two children, for the expedition ; and on the 25th 
of July the party started on a delightful cruise, which 
to Bacon, for one, was fraught with all -important 

Our vessel, the " Norse King," since under other 
management rechristened the " Argonaut," carried a 
distinguished party. All the astronomical world was 
represented : Greenwich Observatory by Mr. E. W. 
Maunder and Mr. Andrew Crommelin; the Nautical 
Almanac Office by its chief, Dr. Downing. Sir Robert 
Ball was there, and Dr. Common, in charge of a branch 
of the party sent out by the Joint Permanent Eclipse 
Committee of the Royal and Royal Astronomical 
Societies to every available eclipse. Half a dozen 
distinguished foreign professors hailed from Italy, 
France, and Greece ; and one dark-skinned savant 
from India ; while such famous lady astronomers as 
Miss E. Brown and Mrs. Maunder were among the 
number, in proof of the well-attested scientific attain- 
ments of the fairer sex. 

It was a unique shipload of clever people, albeit 
leavened by a large admixture of sightseers who laid no 
special claim to such an adjective. But let not the un- 
scientific reader hastily assume that it was the more dull 
or heavy on that account. Your scientist, when he un- 
bends, is the lightest-hearted of beings and most delight- 
ful of companions. The astronomers had come not only 
for an eclipse expedition but for a holiday as well ; and 
united as all were by a common interest and a common 
aim, insular reserve was broken down in a manner quite 
unprecedented, and the passengers formed as it were 


In Search of the Corona 

a huge family party, in which cordiality, merriment, and 
right good will reigned supreme. 

This fact is attested in the following letter written by 
Bacon to his faithful Club Secretary in the early days 
of the cruise : 

" Stavanger. 27.7.96. 


" I can give some account of our start, a very fair 
start so far, though a little bit rough for some of our party. 
Yesterday broke foul with a baffling wind which brought 
up a stormy night and a nasty roll, and our table, which 
started with thirteen, fell to five ; so with all the rest. I 
have not been a sufferer, and Fred, when others look 
doubtfully at their food, will order roast beef and horse- 
radish sauce and send for a second allowance of pudding. 
We are one hundred and sixty-four passengers, and we 
are very proud of our company ; indeed I question if such 
a select party has left an English port for many a day. 
Besides our own leading astronomers we have a score of 
professors of all countries, also a Scotch Bishop. He has 
been very bad, poor man, but has revived to-day. 
We also have a Parsee, who seemed at his last 
gasp yesterday. Then some of his friends came and 
asked him what sort of funeral ceremony would be 
proper in his case, others told him they thought they had 
seen vultures in the distance, and the like. The Bishop 
was unequal to attend service yesterday, so the Captain 

" Will it astonish you to hear that our destination is 
on the same longitude as Cairo, and the latitude of 
Baffin's Bay ? We shall go three hundred miles within 
the Arctic circle and pitch our tent on Lapland territory, 
close to the Russian frontier. We are, if arrangements 
hold, to have our heavy equipment of instruments 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

hauled up a couple of miles to where a military guard is 
posted, and at sea will be a veritable fleet, every country 
sending private excursions on pleasure or business, 
while half a dozen British men-of-war, training-ships, 
will also lie off. I have had a talk with Sir R. Ball about 
his visit to us, and am to discuss the matter further. 
I may be able to judge after hearing his three lectures on 
board which would best suit ourselves. I have had 
many opportunities of interesting new friends in the 
Club, and have little doubt I could induce some of them 
to lecture ; but all being astronomers, they should, I think, 
be kept in reserve for another season. It is an under- 
stood thing on board that we are to regard ourselves as 
a family party and every one is to know every one else. 
This is very un-English and very delightful, and should 
lead to many friendships. We sit down our entire 
party to dinner, and being put at the head of one of the 
tables the task of making various guests acquainted falls 
partly on myself. 

" Our baggage room is a sight, with all the bulky in- 
struments stowed there, and my next letter ought to tell 
how the important preparations are proceeding. So far 
the sky has been uncertain and some heavy rain has 
fallen. We are fast getting northward, snow on the 
mountains, and we have sighted our first whale. Re- 
member me to all, and with our kindest regards. 
" Yours ever sincerely, 


Our destination was Vadso, a quaint little township 
of Norwegian Lapland, at the mouth of the Varanger 
Fjord, some half-day's sail past the North Cape. Vadso 
is far beyond the range of the ordinary tourist, to whom 
it offers no attraction nay, rather presents one pungent 


In Search of the Corona 

reason for keeping away ! It is the local centre for the 
extensive fish-drying trade of that district, and in the 
miles of open wooden sheds that surround the town cod 
and salmon are hung to " cure." Cod-liver-oil and guano 
are also manufactured there, and a whale-boiling factory 
is in the vicinity. Let it be recorded to the credit of the 
astronomers that for a whole week they bore, uncom- 
plainingly, the mingled odours that one of the party 
declared positively woke him up at night. " I had no 
idea until now," plaintively remarked a Greenwich ob- 
server, " that a total eclipse could smell so strong." 

For the use of the members of the British Astrono- 
mical Association a small uninhabited island, opposite 
the town, was assigned, and here we toiled all day erecting 
our instruments, while certain self-sacrificing volunteers, 
Bacon and his son of course among them, shared the 
task of watching them by night. (There were reindeer 
on the island, and the numerous Lapp population proved 
themselves both inquisitive and drunken.) Bacon's 
astronomical equipment was sufficiently complete and 
workmanlike. With his four-inch refractor, conve- 
niently mounted and adapted, he and his son were to 
photograph the Corona, while a smaller instrument was 
under charge of the writer. The two were carefully 
erected in a good position on the top of the cliffs over- 
looking the fjord, and in the centre of the camp of valu- 
able and elaborate apparatus there assembled. 

As the day of the eclipse drew near the harbour of 
Vadso presented an animated scene. The British Train- 
ing Squadron arrived, with ships of the Danish and 
Norwegian navies, as also passenger steamers and private 
yachts of all nations. The many-coloured signal flags 
flashed all day about the yards of the men-of war in 
international courtesies ; boat-loads of blue-jackets darted 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

over the water, and the rocks around the f j ord re-echoed 
to the unwonted sounds of saluting guns, bands, and 
bugle-calls. The sad and deeply impressive ceremony 
of the naval funeral of an English " Middy," killed in an 
accident, the first Englishman to rest in that remote 
little Lapland cemetery, was the one sorrowful episode 
in a delightful week. The ceremony itself was sufficiently 
touching and picturesque. Kindly Norwegian women 
strewed the road before the coffin with sweet-smelling 
heather, two Lutheran clergy, with Geneva gowns and 
stiff white ruffs, stood with the English Chaplain over the 
grave ; and between the sharp volleys of the firing party 
rang out the shrill bugle notes of the " reveille," symbol 
of the joyful Resurrection. 

Elaborate rehearsals filled up every spare moment of 
the astronomers' time until the great day arrived. The 
eclipse was to commence at 5 a.m., and half -past two that 
morning saw us all astir and rowing across to the island 
in boats a rather uncomfortably early start, but rendered 
less apparent from the fact that at that time and latitude 
we were enjoying a twenty-four hours' day. During the 
night hours it had been raining, and the sky was yet 
thick with cloud ; but there was just that appearance 
which seemed to herald a general clearance later ; patches 
of blue could be traced here and there, and for the time, 
at least, there seemed small reason to despond. But 
with the rising sun came sinking hopes, for he rose only 
behind ever more thickly gathering gloom. After " first 
contact," the exact moment when the dark body of the 
satellite begins its insidious advance over the sun's bright 
face, hope gave place to despair. It grew darker and 
darker, and, with the oncoming shadow, colder and colder 
too. Once for one brief second, through a rift in the 
passing vapour, a pale, thin, watery crescent peeped wanly 


In Search of the Corona 

down upon us. One young lady present called it the 
moon a fact long remembered against her. Then deeper 
blackness shut down on the desolate scene. 

As the actual moment of totality drew near, the astrono- 
mers, with one accord, left their instruments, to which, 
until then, they had clung desperately, and prepared to 
enjoy, as best might be, what was to follow. Perfect 
silence fell upon the camp, broken only by Bacon himself, 
who, seeing his daughter, in the rapidly increasing dark- 
ness, approaching, as he thought, too near the edge of the 
cliff, shouted lustily, " Come back, you silly child ! " a 
remark for which we both subsequently received our share 
of banter. Then followed the bugle-call heralding the 
immediate advent of totality, and a moment later the pall 

The 1 06 seconds which followed, during which the sun 
behind the clouds was totally eclipsed, were always de- 
clared by Bacon to be the most wonderful of his life, not 
to be equalled even by the two solar eclipses he subse- 
quently witnessed. It would be hard indeed to paint a 
more impressive scene. Huge clouds of the deepest, 
richest purple enveloped the sky, and through their in- 
terstices on the horizon flashed golden gleams as of a 
stormy autumn sunset. A curious green shade was over 
all, through which the dimly distinguished faces around 
showed of a pallor almost corpse-like. The darkness 
itself was never intense, for even at mid-totality it was 
possible to trace the hands of a watch ; but surely never 
before had fallen a more strange, weird, unearthly dark- 
ness, a darkness that poured down upon us with the 
greatest rapidity, a darkness that could positively be felt. 
Every nerve of the trembling body seemed to cry out against 
so unnatural a nightfall, presaging, as it seemed, some dire 
and awful cataclysm. The spell of the dread gloom was 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

almost hypnotic in its uncanny influence ; and when, with 
breathless rapidity, it suddenly lifted, the light came 
flashing back over the landscape, the green and golden 
gleams faded away, and in place came an early sunrise 
effect with a pink blush on the fjord, there remained a 
gasping and speechless crowd, tongue-tied by the mystery 
they had just beheld, filled with blended emotions, in 
which wonder, relief, and awe found place ; and disap- 
pointment, and pity for the disappointment of others, 
only subsequently gained sway. 

Almost before the astronomers had recovered their 
senses, and long before the unused instruments were 
packed up again and the big cairn built on the site of the 
dismantled camp, plans were being laid for the next 
total eclipse, which, seventeen months later, was to be 
visible in India. Names were already being given in for 
the B.A.A. expedition, and Bacon's was again among the 
first. Thus it came about that Christmas Eve, 1897, saw 
another smaller, but not less enthusiastic, band set forth 
in pursuit of a shadow, this time with Bacon himself as 
their leader. 

The Norwegian eclipse cruise had done much for my 
father. Not only had it gained him a score of new friend- 
ships, some the closest of the rest of his days, but it had 
roused him from the long lethargy into which my mother's 
death and his former troubles had plunged him. It had 
thrown him into contact with men of his own calibre, it 
had quickened his energy and fired his ambition. During 
the rest of the happy homeward voyage he became more 
identified with the leaders of the expedition, and on their 
councils afterwards his energy and organizing skill soon 
won him leading place. The arranging of the Indian 
Eclipse Expedition proved a far more difficult and onerous 
task than the Norwegian. For the latter there were a 


In Search of the Corona 

large party of observers, all of one mind, bound for one 
spot, not very remote, in the season of summer holiday. 
Few indeed were the astronomers who would face the 
trouble and expense of a winter voyage to India, with the 
added discouragements, as it so chanced at the time, of 
plague, famine, and war. The last Border campaign was 
not yet terminated, the country had just passed through 
the throes of a terrible famine, and plague was raging at 
Bombay. Small wonder the number of volunteers was 
small, and the task of securing special terms and facilities 
for them proportionately greater. The labour entailed 
on the leaders was extreme, and then, at the last moment, 
the little party further divided itself, one portion, under 
Mr. Maunder, sailing a week previously for a post in the 
centre of India where a camp was already arranged for 
them ; while the larger party, under Bacon's charge, 
were to proceed a thousand miles inland from Bombay to 
Buxar, in the Central Provinces, with no very definite 
ideas concerning what was there to become of them, and 
eight days only in which to prepare for the eclipse. 

In the summer intervening between the two eclipses 
came the Diamond Jubilee. Through his friendship with 
Mr. Maskelyne, Bacon became a participator, to a small 
extent, in the former's ambitious scheme whereby a site 
in St. Paul's Churchyard, now occupied by Messrs. 
Spence's premises, was secured, the existing buildings 
pulled down, and in their place erected the largest stand 
for spectators, in the finest situation, on the whole route 
of the procession. Bacon and his son were night-watch- 
men on the Maskelyne stand the eve of the great ceremony, 
which they subsequently beheld from the same coign of 
vantage. Mr. Maskelyne and his talented eldest son, 
Mr. Nevil Maskelyne, F.R.A.S., were now Bacon's stanch 
allies, as keenly interested in his doings as he was in 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

theirs, and by their suggestion and help he was enabled 
to include in his instrumental outfit for the Indian Eclipse 
an apparatus never before employed for the purpose, but 
from which valuable results might well be anticipated. 

It had long been a question of importance to astrono- 
mers whether the Solar Corona, which changes so com- 
pletely in form from one eclipse to the next, alters ap- 
preciably within the short period of totality. Satis- 
factorily to test this point with the photographic means 
until then employed in eclipse work was practically im- 
possible, but Mr. Nevil Maskelyne suggested that the 
then newly invented animatograph might be enlisted to 
settle the matter ; and he now set to work to adapt such 
a machine to imprint, on one long film, hundreds of ex- 
posures, five or six per second, which should form an 
animated photograph of the whole length of totality. 
With this apparatus, capable of taking four hundred 
photographs of the Corona during the minute and a half 
the total phase would last, Bacon specially charged himself ; 
hoping with good fortune thus to secure a unique record. 

Densest fog enveloped London on the 23rd of December, 
which rendered futile the heroic efforts of friends and 
relations who had undertaken long journeys for the pur- 
pose of seeing us off. Others, however, were more fortun- 
ate, and we did not lack for hearty good wishes as the 
boat train steamed out of Liverpool Street. At Tilbury 
our little party of sixteen boarded the P. & O. vessel 
" Egypt " lying in midstream ; but the fog never lifted, 
and not until noon next day did our boat quit her moor- 
ings in the muddy, crowded river. Once started, how- 
ever, fortune favoured us, and a safe and pleasant voyage 
brought us to Bombay on the i6th of January. Bundles 
of letters were awaiting our arrival. Bacon's untiring 
efforts of past months had not proved in vain. A govern- 


In Search of the Corona 

ment, vast and powerful enough to control its 996,000 
square miles of territory, and two hundred and thirty 
millions of souls, and yet able to stoop to the needs of 
sixteen helpless English astronomers stranded in its 
midst, had responded to our prayers, and provided us 
with camping ground, tents, furniture, and servants even 
then awaiting our pleasure at Buxar. This was good 
hearing indeed, and with light hearts we started on our 
thousand-mile train journey, and cheerfully endured 
the heat, the dust, and midnight uprousings for " medical 
inspection " that the plague regulations entailed on all 
coming from infected Bombay. 

Benares was our first halting-place that nightmare 
city of dark and dreadful rites, painted, flower-decked 
idols, putrid holy wells, loathsome fakirs, filthy temples, 
and corpses smouldering on the banks of the muddy 
Ganges. After two nights spent here we pushed on to our 
camping ground. Buxar is only sixty miles from Benares 
on the direct line of the G.I.P., yet it took us three-quarters 
of a long day to cover the distance. This was not so 
much through lack of trains as excess of passengers. 
The forthcoming eclipse, which would be visible at 
Benares, brought with it, to the native mind, an unrivalled 
chance of salvation ; for every pious Hindu believed 
that could he but contrive to enter the Holy River at the 
moment that the shadow struck the water, his sins would 
be washed away from him and heaven be sure. There- 
fore from every corner of that vast country came the 
pilgrims, hundreds, thousands, nay, millions of them ; 
blocking the roads, choking the trains, congesting the 
stations. Dusty and footsore, weary and wayworn, 
dropping out by the way, lying down to die by the road- 
side ; of all ranks, ages, and positions, but each with staff 
and " lota " in hand, and the light of eager faith in their 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

dark, patient eyes. When the eclipse actually came, 
harassed, all-suffering English officials had untold labour 
in passing this dense mass of humanity safely through 
the limited extent of available Ganges water, and in frustra- 
ting the pious design of many to drown themselves therein. 
It was a wonderful and intensely impressive spectacle, 
but it interfered not a little with our progress to Buxar. 

Arrived there, we had another proof of the boundless 
resource, and equally boundless kindness, of the Anglo- 
Indian official. Buxar is but a tiny station with very 
limited facilities, and it was proving a second Benares 
in the matter of pilgrims. Only here the pilgrims were 
of another class, fewer in numbers but with more re- 
quirements. From all over the country, headed by the 
Viceroy himself, not to mention the Lieutenant-Governor 
of Bengal, came the dignitaries and big-wigs, both English 
and native, to observe the eclipse. They wanted special 
trains, they wanted camps, they wanted servants, they 
wanted provisions what was it they did not want ? 
and yet an overworked but ever-courteous District Com- 
missioner, and a ditto ditto Local Magistrate, found 
time to attend to every detail of the encampment we 
discovered waiting for us, and to call upon us themselves 
and offer yet further assistance. 

The next few days were an experience alike unusual 
and delightful, as Bacon's own enthusiastic description 
testifies : 

" Ours was indeed an ideal encampment, possessing 
every charm that life under canvas is capable of. Half a 
dozen luxurious sleeping tents were picturesquely grouped 
in the shady recesses of a mango grove, shielded at the 
far end by our mess tent, a " Swiss Cottage " of noble 
proportions. All had been most expeditiously and 


In Search of the Corona 

liberally provided for us, and it only added to the enjoy- 
ment and novelty of all, if arrangements were as yet some- 
what incomplete. Who cared about a bedstead, if there 
were clean straw on which to spread our rugs ? Who 
would complain of scant furniture, if there was a telescope 
tripod on which to hang one's clothes and an empty 
packing-case doing duty equally well for wardrobe and 
writing-table ? It is true that a single wash-hand basin 
had, in strict rotation, to go the round of the entire party. 
What matter, when a delicious stream ran within twenty 
yards of our outposts ? Astronomers take a philosophical 
view of things, and if, as happened a score of times, a 
lawless tribe of poultry had to be hunted out of our tents, 
there was the consoling feeling that at any rate the com- 
missariat department was sufficiently provided for. 
There was other evidence of this. From the boughs of 
a shady tree hard by hung various joints of sheep and 
buffalo, watched jealously by half a dozen crows above 
and as many natives below. This was our larder. 
Underneath it a convenient hole had been scooped out of 
the ground, and round it were ranged a few vessels of 
metal and earthenware. This was the kitchen, and it is 
needless to add that the impromptu cooking was always 
alike excellent and varied. It was this very primitive 
and unconventional state of things that gave the charm 
to all. Our sojourn here was one long picnic, and life 
was all romance." 

The Eclipse day at last ! and one glimpse at the pale 
blue sky in the early dawn of that morning was sufficient 
assurance that this time we need fear no disappointment. 
On a clear space of ground before the tents stood the 
instruments. Bacon had entrusted to his children the 
apparatus used or rather, not used in Norway, and he 
himself was to work the precious animatograph, with 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

which he had been practising diligently for weeks. In 
this he needed an assistant, and for the purpose had 
carefully trained and instructed our chief native servant, 
"Dabie" by name, white-turbanned, inscrutable, ap- 
parently limited in intelligence, still more limited in his 
knowledge of English, who performed his duties faithfully 
enough, but watched the uncanny, clicking, whirring 
machine with inquisitive, possibly too inquisitive, eyes. 
The rest of our party had their own telescopes and cameras 
to attend to, or employed themselves in naked-eye 
sketching and similar observations. 

As the morning advanced the scene grew animated in 
the extreme. The Viceroy arrived and was conducted 
with much pomp to the huge camp, covering several acres, 
and specially raised platform erected for him. Train after 
train rolled in, depositing its hundreds of sightseers. To 
clear the rapidly growing concourse away from the station, 
where they would otherwise have impeded the traffic, 
one gifted official had hit upon a singularly happy idea. 
He had erected a sign-post, with pointer pointing down 
the road, bearing the legend, " This way to the Eclipse." 
Seriously meant or not, his notice at least had the desired 

Then followed the deeply impressive hour during 
which the light of heaven is slowly blotted from the sky, 
and there falls on the trembling earth the strange, weird 
darkness that is like nothing else in the world in its awful 
menace. Verily Nature is the greatest of stage-managers, 
and works up to her climax in a way that no writer or 
actor of melodrama can ever hope to approach for real 
awesomeness and scenic effect. The gathering of a mighty 
thunderstorm, the mustering of the typhoon, are terrible 
and impressive indeed. But the hour in which the 
ghostly shadow falls thick and thicker upon the shudder- 



See page 2.0 


Page 208 

In Search of the Corona 

ing earth is the most solemn and fearful in the history of 
life. It is as if annihilation threatened to the very source 
of our being itself, and creation stood aghast at the ruin 
to come. 

As the daylight waned, frightened birds, uttering strange 
calls of protest, fluttered trembling to their roosts. The 
camp was quiet with the hush of suspense, though now 
and again a quick exclamation or a nervous laugh jarred 
upon the ear, for the strain of the excitement was growing 
intense. Only the narrowest crescent, narrowing every 
moment, of the sun's veiled face was left in the sky, and 
behold close beside it in the fading blue there flashed forth 
Venus, Mercury, and the brighter stars, gleaming bright 
and brighter. The light was going now by leaps and 
bounds, with, as it seemed, almost visible pulsations. 
Over the ground sped the dark ripples of the " shadow 
bands." The last gleam of sunlight trembled on the 
verge and then went out. Simultaneously came Bacon's 
warning voice, " Now ! " and totality commenced. 

Then in the pale blue sky above sprang forth a vision 
of purest beauty, such as the gross eye of man may 
almost fear to gaze upon, so wellnigh divine it seems in its 
heavenly loveliness ; glorious, mysterious, and indescrib- 
able ! A great dark ball of inky blackness hung in the 
heavens, an awful dead sun, bereft of light and life. But 
round the corpse there played a lambent rosy flame, and 
a bright brilliant ring of silver light like the halo with 
which medieval painters surround the heads of saints 
in bliss. While far out towards the twinkling stars there 
stretched rays and streamers of pearly light, many times 
the diameter of the sun in length, sharply defined and clear, 
yet of a fineness ethereal and unearthly ; filmy wisps of 
ghostly substance, of a delicate beauty past all words. 
It was like nothing we could have seen or imagined, even 
o 209 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

in dreams. Surely the gates of the unseen world had 
swung ajar, and once more, as in days of yore, to longing 
mortals was vouchsafed a single fleeting glimpse of the 
glory of the land beyond the veil ! 

Then as we gazed spellbound there came on the limb 
of the sun a blazing star of light, before whose increasing 
brilliance the ghostly vision began to pale and fade, yet all 
reluctantly, as if loath to go. The long streamers went 
first, and then the Inner Corona narrowed up on the side 
furthest from the light and finally disappeared altogether, 
though not for ten or fifteen seconds after totality was 
past. The light came flooding back, the stars and planets 
faded in the blue, and on the banks of the river the natives 
raised a long, weird cry. A sigh whispered through the 
camp, a deep breath of wonder, regret, almost of relief. 
The great eclipse was past and over, and the shadow 
fleeing at lightning speed over land and sea to realms 
of space unknown. 

The little party of astronomers had made good use of 
their ninety-six seconds. Valuable photographs and 
notes had been secured, and one novel result in the shape 
of a set of light tests that seemed to show that the rapid 
return of the light, apparently much more rapid than its 
withdrawal, is an objective and not merely a subjective 
phenomenon. The animatograph had worked admirably, 
and that night the precious film was removed from the 
machine and carefully stowed away to await development 
in England. Telegrams, of course, had to be despatched, 
and the Guildhall Club that evening was gladdened by the 
receipt of a single unbeautiful word "Abcess" which, 
however, by the aid of a carefully prepared code, they were 
able to expand as follows : " Weather perfect. Obser- 
vations successful all round. All well. Large party 
collected. No disturbance of any kind. Smooth pas- 


In Search of the Corona 

sage." Later on, Bacon, writing to the Senior Secretary, 
added a few more details : 

" Ludlow Castle Hotel, 

" Delhi. 
"Jan. 26, '98. 


" You will have had my telegram and learned the 
splendid success that attended astronomers along their 
whole line across India. We ourselves are triumphant, 
and feel that we have enjoyed such an experience as can 
never come into our lives again. 

" The Viceroy's enormous encampment adjoined ours, 
and to furnish it the resources of the country had been 
taxed to the utmost. In spite of this, however, Govern- 
ment supplied us with a camp of our own on quite a 
princely scale, and posted a guard of some thirty police 
over us night and day. Nor was this unnecessary. The 
concourse was unparalleled. Elephants, camels, bullock- 
carts, and every conceivable species of conveyance, passed 
us, and the natives, gathered from all India, trooped by 
incessantly in countless thousands to their strange rites 
in their holy river. Those days and nights spent under 
canvas were certainly the most novel and most delightful 
in my life, and we fear that all else in India will by com- 
parison seem commonplace. 

"My own work has been heavy but well rewarded. 
Everything has gone through my hands. I was called 
on by every one, and enjoyed the special compliment of 
being asked to lunch with His Excellency the Viceroy after 
the eclipse was over. This I did, and turned the occasion 
to account afterwards by taking an animatograph of his 
brilliant gathering. 

" Remember us to all. Ever yours very sincerely, 



The Record of an Aeronaut 

Then after the work was done and the camp broken up 
came a four-weeks' scamper over some of the wonder 
spots of India, which left a crowd of vivid mental pictures, 
indelibly imprinted on the brain. The Taj Mahal by 
moonlight was perhaps the loveliest of these, or the Alpine 
flush at dawn on Kinchinjunga as seen from the heights 
of Darjeeling. But most of all was Bacon stirred by the 
deathless story of the Great Mutiny, and on the Ridge 
at Delhi, before the Cashmere Gate, in the ruin-strewed 
gardens of the Lucknow Residency, and by the little 
white temple that overlooks the awful Massacre Ghaut at 
Cawnpore, he traced the well-remembered details of a 
glorious history that from boyhood had quickened his 
pulses and stirred his imagination. The homeward 
journey was begun from Calcutta on the i8th of February, 
and from Port Said Bacon posted the following. (Mr. 
Maskelyne, it should be mentioned, had provided a few 
spare animatograph films to be exposed on any effective 
Indian scenes that might lend themselves to a living 

" S.S. Palawan. Red Sea. 
" March 6, '98. 


" I have the chance to scribble half a dozen lines, 
which should precede us by some few days and tell of our 
being, at this moment, half-way home again. The date 
of our arrival is quite uncertain; and as your box is stuffed 
out with travelling cushions and other personal gear I 
propose taking it straight home and returning it to you 
in proper order a day or two later. For safety's sake, I 
had it consigned to the care of the P. & O.'s Agent at 
Calcutta immediately our camp was struck and our long 
forced journeys up country began. I was hoping to get 
another ' animatograph ' picture at Calcutta, but saw 


In Search of the Corona 

no opportunity worth the candle. It is a fine city, but 
far too English and commonplace. The " Chandni 
Chouk," the centre of the native quarter at Delhi, would 
have made a novel and effective moving scene, but with 
this exception I had no chance of working up a picture, 
so that, of necessity, I bring back the main of your films 

" Our good fortune has continued with us on our home- 
ward voyage, the passage so far having been exception- 
ally fine, with no very extreme heat. The one single 
little mishap that has occurred to any of our party fell to 
my lot a few days ago. We were coaling all one night 
at Colombo, and the cabins being stuffy with closed ports, 
I slept in a chair on deck, Fred on one side of me. and a 
ship's officer (off duty) on the other. Naturally a light 
sleeper, I must through that noisy night have been ex- 
ceptionally wakeful, yet one of those thieves for which 
the island is famous succeeded in detaching my gold 
watch as I slept and making off. It was an old favourite. 
They tell me on the ship that such robberies are constant, 
and the villains never hesitate to use their knives freely 
to make good their escape. I am looking forward with 
growing eagerness now to seeing yourself and all again. 
I earnestly hope and trust that Mrs. Maskelyne and all 
your circle are well. Pray remember us most kindly and 
believe me 

" Ever yours most sincerely, 


My father of course never heard any more of his watch 
a valuable one but a more serious loss was before 
him. Tilbury was reached, and Mr. Nevil Maskelyne 
himself met the boat and received the precious packing- 
case in which the eclipse film had been stowed. " Wel- 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

come back, our President ! " was the cheery shout that 
greeted us in the darkness when our little family party 
stepped out of the train that evening. Some thirty men 
of the Guildhall Club were there to receive us, and by 
their escort rendered the drive home quite a triumphal 
progress. Our home-coming was delightful enough, but 
next morning brought frantic telegrams from the Egyp- 
tian Hall, consternation, and endless questioning. Mr. 
Maskelyne had discovered the small box which held the 
film in the packing-case where it was packed, but the 
box itself was empty and the film had disappeared ! 

Who was the thief and when and where the theft was 
committed, has never been cleared up. The fact that 
the case had clearly been tampered with on its way from 
the docks seemed to point to the possibility, incredible 
as it seemed, of a robbery at home, and Mr. Maskelyne 
offered a reward of 50 for information, which elicited no 
reply. More plausible appeared the theory that one of 
our native servants in camp Dabie himself, perchance 
actuated perhaps by superstitious fanaticism, or hope of 
gain, or mere curiosity, had obtained access, as he quite 
possibly might, to the box and abstracted its contents. 
Many theories were promulgated in the press and else- 
where, nor were there wanting ill-natured folk who declared 
the whole thing a hoax that there was no film, nor ever 
had been ! It was all very annoying and extremely 
disappointing, but there was no more to be done except 
to hope and arrange that fortune might be retrieved at 
the next total eclipse, to be visible in May, 1900. 



Mr. J. N. Maskelyne, Dr. Lachlan, Captain Lynn-Smart, Bacon, Prof. Turner, 
Mr. N. Maskelyne 

Page 215 


ON the 27th of July, 1898, the grounds of Shaw 
House, Newbury, an historical locality, presented an 
animated scene. If the ghosts of King Charles (who 
once spent an unhappy night in the grand old Elizabethan 
mansion) and of Cromwell (who gave him a good trouncing 
on the morrow) looked down that afternoon on a spot 
they had both good reason to recollect, they must have 
agreed together that times had altered very much since 
their day. In a field beside the fine elm avenue a large 
and happy crowd had collected, for the Guildhall Club 
were holding a gymkhana, and the weather was propitious. 
All serious interest, however, and there was no lack of it, 
was concentrated in one corner, where a large balloon 
reared its shapely form as high as the tree-tops, and 
a group of scientific gentlemen toyed with as curious 
a collection of acoustic instruments as had ever been 
brought together in one meadow. 

There was apparatus in plenty for both hearing and 
making a noise ; giant " ears," speaking-trumpets, and 
huge " receivers." Bandsmen with musical instruments, 
volunteers with rifles, a stationary engine to which were 
attached every variety of steam hooter, siren, whistle, 
and other ear-piercing invention to be obtained ; while 
ever and anon there broke over the field the terrific re- 
port of a cotton-powder fog-signal, such as Trinity House 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

uses for its lighthouses and lightships all round the coast. 
These were fired by the Secretary of the Cotton Powder 
Company himself, Captain Lynn-Smart, and each stun- 
ning explosion, louder than all the artillery of the battle 
three hundred years ago, was followed by an answering 
crash from the refreshment tent, where startled customers 
and waiters had dropped their cups and saucers. There were 
more noisy possibilities also than met the eye. Three miles 
off the sexton of Thatcham Church was preparing to ring 
up the heavy tenor of that steeple ; while thirty miles 
distant, as the crow flies, artillerymen at Portsmouth, by 
special favour, were making ready at a given signal to 
fire the big guns. 

There seemed scarcely room for the passengers in the 
car of the balloon, so packed was it with cameras, tele- 
scopes, electrometers, chronometers, thermometers, baro- 
meters, speaking-trumpets, ear- trumpets, horns, " dust- 
counters," and every conceivable variety of portable 
acoustic and meteorological implement. They managed 
to wedge themselves in somehow, however, and when 
the moment of ascent came they were wafted up and 
away, notebooks, ear-trumpets, and stop-watches in 
hand, till they disappeared into the sky : while there 
followed them at preconcerted intervals, singly and to- 
gether, in unison and in discord, the lustiest hootings, 
tootlings, screechings, brayings, whistlings, and explosions, 
that continued long after the balloon, like a drop in the 
air, had faded into the clouds. 

Thus was happily inaugurated, certainly with no little 
noise, the first of a long, long series of scientific balloon 
voyages which formed Bacon's chief work for the remain- 
ing busy years of his life, and with which his name is 
inseparably connected. 

It began in this wise. From his youth upwards Bacon 


" The Scientific Aeronaut " 

had been deeply interested in the vagaries of sound. 
The " ghostly " experience in his rooms at Trinity already 
related, and more than one other occasion when he had 
assisted in the solving of an acoustic mystery, had drawn 
his attention closely to the subject. At all times he was 
quick to notice sound phenomena, and his ear was ever 
alert to record echoes, the varying travel of distant 
noises, and the like ; never more so than when in night 
hours, perched aloft in the Golden Ball of St. Paul's, or 
hovering in a balloon over the city or country, the sounds 
of earth had come up to him with a distinctness and im- 
port not to be obtained in any other situation. More re- 
cently his own voyages had recalled the subject of the 
travel of sounds at sea, specially emphasized about this 
time by several terrible shipwrecks where the disaster 
seemed to have been brought about by failure to hear the 
recognized coast signals, though uttering their warning 
messages quite close at hand. 

Eagerly he had read all available authorities on acous- 
tics, more especially the works of that famous physicist 
Professor Tyndall. As scientific adviser to Trinity 
House, Tyndall had made a very special study of this 
very matter of sound-signals at sea, with exhaustive 
experiments lasting over a long period. Bacon followed 
these experiments with keenest interest, noting carefully 
points where he opined more conclusive tests might have 
been instituted, or side-issues which might be profitably 
followed up. Again and again he went over them, and 
each time he halted at a sentence where the Professor 
makes one frank admission. After giving the results 
of his investigations, results in many points quite at 
variance with earlier authorities, he records his desire 
to test his theories from a free balloon, but owns that, 
on consideration, the risk appeared too great. 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

To Bacon this paragraph came in the nature of a direct 

Ever since the day of his first ascent, and indeed before 
that, his library had, of course, contained all the literature 
he could lay hands on concerning the history of aero- 
nautics ; place of honour being reserved to Glaisher's 
fascinating " Travels in the Air." Naturally the scientific 
aspect of ballooning appealed most strongly to Bacon's 
mind, and in reading of the brilliant results arrived at in 
the past it struck him again and again as deplorable that 
of late years the balloon, as a means of scientific research 
unrivalled in its way had completely fallen into 
disuse. In early days scientists had been quick to recog- 
nize its possibilities. As far back as 1802 Gay Lussac 
and others were learning by its means all sorts of physical 
facts till then unknown or unproved. Continental 
savants attested its value again and again, and after 
fifty years the British Association awoke, somewhat 
tardily, to its possibilities, and organized a series of 
scientific ascents by Mr. Welsh, of Kew Observatory ; the 
veteran Charles Green, " Father of English Aeronautics," 
hero of the Nassau voyage, as aeronaut. These ascents 
proved of much interest and gave high promise to further 
research, but the illness of Mr. Welsh brought them to an 
untimely close. A few years later, however, came the 
record-breaking voyages of Glaisher and Coxwell, the 
finest series of scientific ascents until then accomplished. 
Their work and adventures, including the terrific plunge 
of seven miles into the sky, form a most keenly interesting 
contribution to scientific research, of an importance not 
to be overestimated ; but since their day, now more than 
thirty years ago, scientific ballooning seemed, in this 
country at least, to have completely dropped. The 
balloon, in fact, had sunk to the level of a show for gala 


" The Scientific Aeronaut " 

gatherings and nothing more. The airship and the 
flying machine were in earliest experimental stages only. 
Ballooning as a fashionable pastime an outcome of the 
interest which Bacon's own efforts were to produce 
was still years distant, and the British Aeronautical 
Society, pursuing a quiet existence, had little indeed 
save American and Continental news to record. 

Gradually it was dawning on Bacon that here was his 
chance. Ballooning research of the past had been mainly 
of a meteorological nature, but as an observatory for 
acoustical phenomena also a free balloon possessed, as 
Tyndall had acknowledged, unique and unrivalled advan- 
tages. Possibilities of other upper air observations, 
astronomical, biological, and chemical, also presented 
themselves. Bacon was the last man in the world to be 
deterred by the element of personal risk ; ballooning was 
his keenest pleasure in life, and now at last he saw 
the opportunity for turning his hobby to real practical 

Plans began shaping themselves, but preparatory to 
undertaking the work opening out before him he sought 
the advice of the leaders of the scientific world on his new 
project. Lord Kelvin, Lord Rayleigh, Sir W. Huggins, 
Professor J. J. Thomson, Professor W. Ramsay, Pro- 
fessor H. H. Turner, and Sir Robert Ball, among others, 
were approached by him, and from one and all he ob- 
tained warm encouragement and sympathy, and not a 
few valuable suggestions. Next he unfolded his plans 
to his friends the Maskelynes, and here he received prac- 
tical assistance not to be overestimated. Mr. Maske- 
lyne's skill as a mechanician needs no insisting on, and his 
son Nevil, by his more recent work in connection with 
wireless telegraphy and other matters, has sufficiently 
demonstrated his genius for applying his inherited talent 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

to the invention and perfecting of delicate scientific 
apparatus. He devised all manner of sensitive instru- 
ments for the receiving and recording of sound, specially 
suited for balloon observations. Moreover he and his 
father devoted the whole of their summer holidays to 
helping Bacon in a tentative series of sound experiments 
on the ground, made in preparation for his aerial re- 

So during the summer of 1898 weird noises began to 
disturb the day, and frequently the night, echoes of the 
open stretches of Bucklebury Common. Startled sheep 
would scatter at the furious braying of horns, gipsies 
be roused in terror by the thunder of an exploding fog- 
signal ; while rustics wagged incredulous heads at the 
spectacle of gentlemen with speaking-trumpets listening 
behind gorse bushes, or endeavouring to locate with 
astonishing-looking apparatus the position of metro- 
nomes and watches hidden among the heather. 

One most valuable result of this work was the per- 
fecting of an " ear " of quite marvellous sensitiveness. 
Recollections of his long-past clerical experience with 
Professor Parish's parabolic sounding-board at St. Giles's, 
Cambridge, recurred to Bacon's mind, and led him to the 
construction of a giant ear-trumpet of special form, with 
which it was possible to pick up and locate faint noises 
with the greatest ease. Armed with these instruments 
the family would issue forth, night after night, to catch 
the rumble of the G.W.R. expresses in the Swindon valley 
thirteen miles across the downs, the bells from distant 
village steeples, or the nine o'clock gun at Portsmouth. 
We never succeeded satisfactorily in verifying the last, 
by the way, though the keepers in the neighbouring pre- 
serves averred that always at nine o'clock every night 
startled pheasants would rustle in the branches, proving 


" The Scientific Aeronaut " 

that their sensitive organs detected a sound too faint for 
human ears. 

As far as the actual balloon arrangements for his 
aerial experiments went Bacon found no difficulty, for 
Mr. Percival Spencer and his brother Stanley threw 
themselves heart and soul into the matter, and assisted 
with all the skill and knowledge that their unrivalled 
experience as aeronauts lent them. Another trained 
scientific observer, however, was needed in the car, and 
here Bacon was lucky enough to enlist the services of Dr. 
R. Lachlan, late Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, 
a distinguished mathematician, quick in observation, 
cool in action, than whom no better colleague and helper 
could be desired. 

The inaugural ascent was a triumphant success. A 
mass of careful observations were recorded, the results 
of which were naturally instructive rather than con- 
clusive, and further voyages followed in quick succession. 
In the third of these, ascending from the Crystal Palace, 
the wind chanced to be blowing from almost precisely 
the same quarter as in Bacon's first voyage of all, ten 
years before ; and once again he found himself traversing 
the heart of London, and looking down on the wilderness 
of its roofs and chimney-pots. Again the roar of the 
streets arose to him, but this time with strangely abated 
force. In Bacon's own phrase, " The same harsh instru- 
ment was sounding, but the full organ was wanting and 
the swell was closed." Also a thick and very palpable 
haze, invisible from below but only too apparent when 
aloft, and sufficient to render aerial photography hope- 
lessly futile, was in the air. Clearly this latter pheno- 
menon was the cause of the first, and further proof of 
this was to hand in the fact that that mighty sounding 
board the earth, which from a balloon throws back aerial 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

sounds with startling volume, this time refused to answer 
to the usual signals ; and not until a height of under a 
thousand feet was. attained would it reluctantly return 
the notes of a horn that, on previous days, were readily 
flung back to twice or four times that elevation. 

The circumstances of this particular voyage made it 
easy to compare the varying sound-reflecting powers of 
the varieties of country traversed ; for, London being 
passed, the balloon sped low over Hertfordshire and 
Cambridgeshire fields and woods. Pastures and ploughed 
land reflected badly, stubble-fields with hard-baked soil 
were better ; but woods in full foliage, or crops of roots 
with broad expanding leaves, were better still. Best of 
all for the return of sound, be it mentioned, is still, un- 
ruffled water ; but the nature of the sound tested makes 
some difference to the results obtained. 

Evening shadows were falling thickly over the wide 
and peaceful landscape when our balloon (it was the 
writer's first experience of Cloudland) sank down towards 
the newly reaped cornfield chosen for our landing-place. 
The scene, however, was scarcely as peaceful as it looked 
from a mile's elevation, for a stiff breeze, uncomfortably 
in evidence when we left the Palace grounds, had by no 
means abated its vigour. The ground, moreover, was 
baked iron-hard with weeks of drought, and the prongs 
of the grapnel refused to enter. A stunning crash an- 
nounced our arrival on terra firma, and then, the wind 
catching the flapping, half-empty silk, there ensued a 
very pretty steeplechase over the harvest-fields. Neatly 
piled corn-sheaves flew in all directions, panting and 
perspiring labourers in full cry were left far behind. The 
race was exciting and fatiguing, for the car was dragging 
all over on its side and it needed much holding on to pre- 
vent being jerked out of the basket. There was not 



See pageJ22i 


Page 223 

"The Scientific Aeronaut" 

much time left for reflection in our hurried progress ; 
nevertheless the thought was in all our minds that we 
were speeding towards a deep cutting of the Great Nor- 
thern Railway, seen from aloft, in which ugly ditch our 
course would certainly be stayed and then there would 
be the frequent express trains to be reckoned with ! 

Some fifty yards of grass-field now only separated us 
from the cutting ; but fringing the field ran the North 
Road, and, luckily, alongside it, a double row of telegraph 
and telephone wires. Over these wires the mass of the 
silk plunged and lay, heaving, on the roadway ; but on 
the further side the car remained suspended, until such 
time as the shouting harvesters rushed up to our assis- 
tance. Those wires had proved our salvation, and it 
seemed a little ungrateful on our part that when the 
balloon was cleared away two of them lay broken and 
twisted upon the ground. Naturally we expected to 
hear more of this incident ; but the G.P.O. proved itself 
as generous as it had been helpful, and nothing was said. 
Our steeplechase terminated, I recall, in close proximity 
to a donkey. This animal alone of all the occupants of 
the fields we passed over held his ground. Horses and 
sheep and cattle bolted wildly at our approach, man him- 
self evinced the maddest excitement, but the donkey 
stood firm and made no sign or sound. Only after a 
long half-hour, when the wreckage was at last cleared 
away and hoisted into a wagon, did the situation seem 
to dawn upon him, and uplifting voice and tail he brayed 
and brayed and brayed. 

Almost the next voyage that Bacon made he ex- 
perienced a similar steeplechase at the finish, and, through 
lack of an anchor, came near ending his days over the 
lofty " Lover's Seat " cliff at Hastings. Again he may 
be left to tell his own tale : 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

" It was desirable to attain a considerable height, and 
to continue the observations as long as possible. On the 
eve of starting I appealed to our aeronaut and asked him 
if, as the day was calm, we might not dispense with the 
extra weight of heavy anchor and trail-rope. 

" ' I think we might, 7 was his reply, ' but you will have 
to take the chance of what sort of landing we may get.' 

<c My colleague, Dr. Lachlan, and myself readily agreed 
to this, and, all being in order, the final directions were 
promptly given. The next moment we were mounting 
upwards with abundant buoyant power and eight bags 
of ballast to the good. 

" The afternoon was perfect for our purpose, warm, still, 
and almost cloudless, with only such summer haze as tones 
the sky to greyish blue. We took frequent snapshots as 
we drifted slowly to the S.S.E. at a height of hardly half 
a mile. From the moment of starting one peculiarity 
in the physical conditions prevailing was abundantly 
apparent. The air was not in fittest mood for conveying 
sounds. The cheering of the crowd in the Palace grounds 
had quickly faded. In twenty minutes from the start 
we were sailing over Bromley. Half an hour later we 
could watch the trains burrowing under Polhill tunnel 
and could catch their smothered rumbling even under 
the hill that buried them. Presently Tonbridge and 
Tunbridge Wells lay beneath us. Then 4,000, 6,000, 
8,000 feet were rapidly recorded. Soon we looked down 
from a mile and three-quarters high. What a sight it 

4< The sea was well in sight. Beachy IJead stood bold 
and bluff on the right. Dungeness was away on the 
east and far down, but straight in front and rapidly 
approaching, were unmistakably outlines of the twin 
towns of Hastings and St. Leonards. Hastings loomed 




Page 224 

"The Scientific Aeronaut" 

large on the weather bow, with the old town right ahead 
and apparently only three or four miles away. Mr. 
Spencer fell a-musing, and, looking over the side, began 
toying with fragments of paper, which he threw out from 
time to time. I ventured to break in on his reverie and 
remark that the town seemed very close, and that there 
was no margin between it and the bare sea-cliff. 

" c What's the height, Doctor ? ' he asked. 

" ' Eight thousand feet,' was the reply. Mr. Spencer, 
without deigning to look seaward, merely took the valve- 
line in hand. 

" ' But, Mr. Percival,' I said with gentle chiding, ' you're 
not looking the way we are drifting, and there are only 
two or three fields now between us and the sea.' 

" For all that, Mr. Spencer obstinately looked another 
way and merely demanded the height again. The 
Doctor replied, without a tremor in his voice, yet some- 
what promptly, ' Six thousand feet.' 

" We were already over the houses. Beyond them were 
the cliffs a hundred feet high, and beyond the open sea. 

" Flesh and blood could not stand this, and I asked in 
desperation if the hanging rope wouldn't damage the 

" ' Yes,' replied the helmsman, ' but not so much as 
the car,' and with that he looked harder than ever in the 
wrong direction. Already we were swooping down with 
a rush. 

" * Ready with this sandbag,' broke in Mr. Spencer, 
' and look out.' The next moment circumstances were 
all altered, and we were caught by a strong undercurrent 
blowing in another direction, the presence of which Mr. 
Spencer, watching the smoke of the chimneys beneath, 
alone had detected. And so we cleared the housetops 
after all, coming down in the identical harvest-field that 
p 225 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

our captain had had it in his mind to drop in from the 
very first. 

" It was a bold exploit, beautifully carried out ; and 
successful as far as it went ; but our adventure was very 
far from being yet over. The wind that had been so 
light in the Palace grounds was now blowing half a gale 
along the bleak high cliff. In consequence of this we at 
once bowled over, and as we had no grapnel we began 
dragging very rapidly. All who are familiar with Hast- 
ings can picture the spot hard by the sea, on the eastern 
outskirts, and will understand how only one field separ- 
ated us from the top of the high cliff. Along this field 
we now began to coast, at an accelerating pace which, 
to say the least, grew exciting. Right across the middle 
of this field, however, was drawn a substantial fence of 
posts and rails, and this was a most welcome obstacle. 
For as we were fairly tobogganing on the ground we hoped 
that this would hold us up until the balloon, already half 
empty, should have entirely collapsed. The mistake we 
made was in forgetting our momentum. One is so apt to 
regard a, balloon as devoid of weight. Yet in reality 
we represented some three-quarters of a ton, moving as 
fast as a horse could trot. Railings are not found in a 
meadow that will stand such a mad charge, and we were 
quickly on the wrong side of the fence, with a huge gap 
behind us. %. 

" We were now perfectly helpless, and dragging on our 
side could take no clear view of the ground before us. 
We only knew that, while our course was parallel to the 
coast-line, the actual outline of the headland was indented, 
and a yawning chasm was somewhere close ahead of us. 

" It will need no insisting on that to have been dragged 
over the edge of a lofty cliff with a crippled balloon would 
have meant complete disaster. Further, if it be asked 



The Scientific Aeronaut " 

why we did not attempt to get out, the answer is a simple 
one. It would have been impossible for us all to have 
jumped out together, and the attempt would infallibly 
have meant the carrying away of one or more of the 
party. Come what might, we must stick by the craft and 
one another. Now and again one of us the victim of 
some extra heavy bump would utter an ejaculation as 
cheerily as he could, to indicate that so far he was all 
right. Then one, momentarily catching a better view, 
suddenly cried " Look out ! " with an accent which pro- 
claimed that the crisis had come. It had. Just ahead 
the ground disappeared, dropping into some steep hollow 
how steep or where ending we knew not ; but its 
brink was bordered by a few trees, and if only luck would 

stand by us 

"Well, it did. With a delicious * swish' we crashed 
into a big oak, and our brave craft had found its haven. 
And where were we ? We soon learned. Half Hastings 
was hurrying out to greet us, and then we found out that 
our career had ended actually at the romantic Fairlight 
Glen that overhangs the sea." 

And so voyage succeeded voyage all that summer, 
each adding its quota to the mass of valuable observa- 
tions now beginning to assume important dimensions, 
each characterized by its own special incidents. One 
ascent from town followed with curious exactness the 
course of the famous Nassau journey of sixty years before, 
and the aeronauts were strongly tempted to make the 
resemblance more complete by crossing the Channel, as 
they might very easily have done. Only the fact that 
two days later they were to ascend at the meeting of the 
British Association at Bristol, and the risk of not re- 
turning in time, restrained them. Fear of descending 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

among the hop-fields of Kent a hop-field is a peculiarly 
unpropitious spot for a balloon descent, both because the 
crop is valuable and costly to damage, while hop-poles 
are stout and long and pointed, and poke unpleasant 
holes in silk and person kept them aloft until dusk had 
fallen on the ground, though in the sky twilight and the 
exquisite colours of a flaming sunset yet lingered. The 
final plunge to earth was a plunge into darkness, and a 
quarter of a mile of blind tobogganing before the anchor 
held ensued. It was very much a case of trusting to 
luck, and in this case the luck held, for the balloon even- 
tually found safe resting-place in a ditch. Then followed 
an amusing minute or two. Countrymen had seen the 
great craft against the sky, and were running up from all 
directions to where they surmised it had fallen. But by 
this time it was night, or very nearly so, and they could 
not locate the spot where the aeronauts lay quiet in 
the overturned car, listening through chinks in the 
basketwork, and waiting with glee to see what would 

Around them lay tumbled the great folds of the silk, 
floundering and flapping in the breeze like some stranded 
leviathan in its last throes ; an uncanny enough spectacle 
to encounter in lonely fields amid the shades of evening. 
So the rustics seemed to find it, for when the shouting 
crowd drew near and voices cried excitedly " 'Ere 'er be ! " 
no great anxiety was at first displayed for a nearer ac- 
quaintance with the monster. A breathless pause ensued, 
and a half-doubtful inquiry, " What be 'er ? " The party 
hidden in the basket with difficulty stifled their mirth 
and remained motionless until cautious footsteps ap- 
proached their hiding-place, and nervous hands felt 
about the car. Then they burst into a shout of laughter, 
all the heartier because at the unexpected sound their 





Page 228 

" The Scientific Aeronaut " 

discoverers shied off again promptly, in alarm, into the 

The British Association ascent which followed was an 
instructive one in many ways. Many leading scientific 
men were, of course, present, and displayed a warm in- 
terest in the proceedings : notably Professor Ramsay, who 
provided Bacon with an exhausted glass flask in which 
to bottle off air in the upper regions for his own subsequent 
analysis. The ascent was to form one of the attractions 
of the garden party given to the savants at Clifton College, 
and not until long evening shadows lay thick across the 
lawns where the guests had assembled did the balloon rise 
upon its voyage. Almost despairingly Bacon snap- 
shotted the quickly alternating scenes. He had had 
little luck with aerial photography, attempted under 
seemingly most favourable conditions, during recent 
ascents, and there seemed small chance of succeeding 
better when the light was so far spent. Nevertheless he 
achieved on this occasion the best series of photographs 
he ever secured, and this curious fact appeared signifi- 
cantly to dovetail in with another observation made. 
Long weeks of sunny, rainless days had succeeded each 
other through a summer of most unusual drought. The 
dry weather had every appearance of still continuing, 
and no forecast yet had even hinted at the possibility of 
a break. Nevertheless the instruments carried aloft on 
this occasion revealed an unexpected state of affairs. 

The temperature of the upper air had sunk in a marked 
degree, and high up the air was saturated with moisture. 
Clearly a colder current from the N.W. was settling earth- 
ward, replacing the dry dust-laden lower stratum with 
moister and more transparent atmosphere. The aero- 
nauts foretold a coming change, and three days later their 
scarce-believed prophecies were justified. In the border- 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

land of moist and dry air, encountered above, stray cloud- 
lets formed and vanished again beside them. At their 
highest point of several thousand feet a floating globe 
of thistledown a voyager far indeed from home 
wandered past the car. A rapid descent which seemed 
to threaten an impact with the ground over-severe for 
delicate apparatus^ was checked by a fall in the pliant 
branches of an oak tree near Frome. Ridiculously enough, 
some mistake occurred in communicating the safe termina- 
tion of the voyage, and the newspapers next morning saw 
fit to announce that the aeronauts were " missing." In 
fact they worked up quite a little sensation over the 
matter, so that my father, wholly unconscious, returning 
to London later in the day, found himself confronting a 
street placard of an evening edition announcing in large 
letters, " Safety of Professor Bacon ! " The next num- 
ber of the " World " contained the following verses 


(To the balloon in which Professor Bacon left Bristol on Monday 
night, and which, after its disappearance had caused some anxiety, 
alighted eventually near Frome). 

You started for your journey in the clouds, 

Bent on aerial investigation, 
Acclaimed by shouts of scientific crowds, 

Whose gas inspired you with your inspiration. 

And after many hours, though you were tossed, 
By tempest hurled, storm-buffeted or shaken, 

This you can boast that honour was not lost, 
For in the end, at least, you saved your Bacon. 

So far the aerial experiments, promising and instructive 
as they were proving, had been carried out only in the 
hours of daylight, and Bacon was now thirsting to repeat 
them in the silence and altered conditions of night. A 
date was accordingly fixed for a night balloon voyage 
under the harvest moon of early autumn, and with boyish 


" The Scientific Aeronaut " 

enthusiasm Bacon looked forward to a novel and alto- 
gether delightful experience. Glaishier, whose scientific 
ascents had also included a night journey aloft, had 
spoken of the difficulty of taking observations by lamp- 
light. My father decided to overcome this difficulty by 
preliminary practice, and, by way of fitting rehearsal 
for the event, to choose some isolated and elevated 
position for the purpose. With this view, he begged 
permission of his friend the Vicar to spend a night 
on the fine old tower of Thatcham Church, some 
mile and a half distant, and here with his son and 
daughter he kept night vigil, diligently practising with 
the apparatus intended for the balloon ascent, and adding 
many experiments to which the situation lent itself, as, 
for example, the hearing of faint sounds as carried from 
the ground to the parapet eighty feet above, and vice 

It was somewhat of an eerie experience aloft above 
that moonlit, silent graveyard ; but more especially so, 
when, in our toilsome ascent, laden with baggage, among 
the crazy jackdaw-littered ladders of the belfry, the 
solitary light we bore became extinguished, leaving us in 
total darkness, just as the timbers to which we clung 
commenced an uncanny trembling, and immediately 
beside us, with startling suddenness and deafening uproar, 
the bells crashed out the chimes and hour of midnight. 

It proved splendid preparation, however, for the ascent, 
which took place from the Crystal Palace in ideal weather 
conditions a few days later. A night balloon voyage 
possesses romantic attractions of its own not to be sur- 
passed, and in scenic effects alone the midnight journey 
over the Garden of England and beneath a moon posi- 
tively blinding in its brilliance, at that height, was without 
its equal. In the upper regions the air proved consider- 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

ably warmer than on the ground, and in much comfort 
and delight the three aeronauts (Mr. Swinbourne, the 
war correspondent, was this time of the party), leaving 
the sparkling, star-traced streets of London behind them, 
sped smoothly across Kent, over Eynsford and Ayles- 
ford, making meteorological and other observations by 
the light of a Davy lamp (necessary because of the near 
presence of the gas) slung aloft, and continually challeng- 
ing the echoes from earth, this time behaving in a quite 
unexampled and most instructive fashion. In the strange 
deceptive mixture of darkness and moonlight it was a 
difficult matter to recognize landmarks, and time and 
again the white sheet of low-lying mists beneath suggested 
irresistibly to voyagers making their first night journey 
that the sea had been reached. Finally, a few miles 
from Maidstone, the balloon, sinking earthwards, caught 
her trail-rope in telegraph wires, and the party hauled 
themselves down, hand over hand, until a panting game- 
keeper, who swore he had run a mile and a quarter in 
pursuit, burst through one hedge, even as a burly police- 
man on night duty shouldered through another. The 
nearest habitation, a solitary inn, was a mile and a half 
away ; but by skilful adjustment of the ballast the 
exactly poised balloon was conveyed breast-high, without 
effort, by these two cheerful helpers to the spot. They 
might have saved themselves the trouble, however, for 
that inhospitable " public " refused to open its doors to 
what it evidently supposed were belated hooligans, 
despite (or perhaps in consequence of) showers of pebbles 
on the windows and bugle-calls on the horn. Disgustedly 
the party, having succeeded in rousing a local carrier, 
drove five miles to Maidstone, where they arrived, cold 
and tired, as the town clocks were striking three. 
Maidstone, however, did not, this time, live up to its 


" The Scientific Aeronaut 11 

usual hospitable reputation. At the only hotel they 
succeeded in rousing, an elderly gentleman put a furious 
head out of window and threatened to give them in charge 
of the police. The police themselves were not more 
helpful, and when Bacon in desperation suggested to 
them the breaking of a window, which would, at least, 
give them the entree of the lock-up, replied sadly, " You 
wouldn't be comfortable in there, sir. It is already full 
of drunken hop-pickers ! " Finally a humble but re- 
spectable inn afforded them scant accommodation until 



MEANTIME Bacon was supplementing his aerial 
experiments with corresponding observations upon 
the earth. With the assistance of Mr. Nevil Maskelyne, 
sound tests of much delicacy were carried out in quiet 
ground near London, and a useful fortnight was spent 
at Kingsgate, Kent, where the coastguards, for several 
years past his especial friends, lent invaluable assistance 
in sound-signalling experiments of all kinds. Wishful to 
test the far-famed acoustic properties of the Whispering 
Gallery of St. Paul's, permission was again obtained 
(this time of Dean Gregory) to spend a night in the build- 
ing ; and in the silent hours Bacon thoroughly explored 
the famous echo and proved its nature to be quite other- 
wise than Sir John Herschel and other observers noting 
it probably under much less favourable conditions had 

But Bacon longed for greater facilities for carrying on 
the work in which he was daily growing more absorbed. 
Balloon ascents, instructive as they were, lasted but so 
short a while. Observations on the ground were hampered 
by all manner of restrictions and disturbances that no 
care could wholly obviate. In Bacon's own words : 
" I was as yet no nearer learning more about those all- 
important Zones of Silence noticed by mariners at sea ; 
and though the investigations of atmospheric conditions 
prevailing at all heights and at all hours should prove of 



Observations and Adventures 

great value, as also all records of the sounds that could 
be heard, or not heard, in the upper air, yet there were 
many questions which could only be answered by obser- 
vations made actually at sea. Unfortunately, however, 
the motion and noise of the waves are usually great 
hindrances in the way of acoustic experiments, either on 
cliffs or shipboard. The ideal observatory would be 
some island well out at sea, but on whose shores the waves 
should never beat. It should be somewhere near the 
track of vessels, where steamers plying night and day 
should sound their warning signals, where fogs lie, and 
beacon lights be shining. Further, it would be well if it 
should be within earshot of distant cannon, and perhaps 
of big bells tossed about by the waves. It might be 
supposed such an island does not exist on the face of the 
waters, and yet it does, and through the extreme courtesy 
and generosity of Trinity House I found it." 

Voyagers round our eastern coasts are familiar with 
the Maplin Lighthouse, a weirdly shaped erection, rising 
on an iron framework straight out of the waves, six miles 
from the nearest point of the Essex shore, far out in the 
estuary of the Thames as strange and lonely a habita- 
tion as is to be found in the whole British realms. There 
is no reef where the Maplin stands reared high above the 
water, and on its slender piles is practically no lap of 
waves. It overlooks the great ocean highway between 
London and the North Sea, it is within sound of the guns 
of Shoeburyness and Sheerness, and of a bell buoy to the 
east ; and four miles on either side of it the lightships of 
the " Swin Middle " and the " Mouse " blink their warn- 
ing beams. " Ideal " was indeed the word to describe 
such an observatory, and probably never in all his life 
did Bacon thrill with keener delight or happier anticipa- 
tion than when, Trinity House yielding graciously to his 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

bold request, he started in the middle of November for his 
self-imposed exile (of unknown duration) to a Robinson 
Crusoe island entirely after his own heart. 

Very miscellaneous was his luggage, consisting as it did 
of all manner of acoustical and meteorological instru- 
ments, " paraboloid ears," bed and bedding, and pro- 
visions (even to water-supply) for several weeks. He 
was particularly anxious, I recall, to meet with a fog, 
among his other experiences, and altogether before he 
was ready for it his desire was gratified. He left home 
one Monday afternoon bound for Blackwall, where he 
was to join the Trinity House yacht " Vestal," then 
starting on her monthly visitation to the lighthouses and 
lightships of the district. The next news heard of him 
was a hurried card : " Dense fog. Should have been 
quite lost but for extreme kindness of station-master." 
The letter I received two days later, however, was more 
reassuring : 

" ' Vestal,' 9 p.m. Monday. 


" Never since Indian days have I met with such 
extreme attention and courtesy. The fog at Blackwall 
Station was so dense that it seemed impossible to venture 
outside, and the whole of the staff were out on fatigue 
duty with fog signals. By feeling the outside wall I tried 
to grope my way to the watchman of the dock. I missed 
his gate, however, and finding the way blocked by a 
chain I got under it and tried a little further, but gave 
it up as hopeless and went back. Lucky I did, for a few 
more steps would have taken me over the wall into the 

"The station-master, who proved a splendid friend, 
felt sure I couldn't move out of the station, and offered 


Observations and Adventures 

me a bed. The only safe way of reaching Trinity Wharf 
would be by a walk of two miles, and an old hand could 
hardly find the way. Eventually he thought of a plan. 
He took me himself (first class, at the Company's ex- 
pense) to another station, where he got a porter with a 
signal lamp to walk i miles with me the whole round of 
the dock to the Superintendent's house a Captain 
Browne, who was expecting me and had orders to make 
a royal guest of me. He vowed to put me on the 
steamer somehow, even though I could not get my gear, 
which was left at Blackwall. He had been forty years 
in the service of Trinity House, and sat for half an hour 
telling me about Tyndall and old days. Suddenly we 
found the fog (which had lasted twenty-four hours) had 
vanished like a dream. Then he hailed his boat, put me 
on board, and sent his own man by boat to fetch my 
baggage. So here I am in princely comfort, and have 
the private cabin reserved for the ' Elder Brethren.' 
We get under weigh at 10 a.m. to-morrow, and make quite 
a voyage, visiting a whole lot of light-stations (one is 
the ' Mouse,') finishing with the Maplin, which, by the 
way, is bang in the sea, not an inch of ground round. 

" Tuesday. 

" Am treated like a prince. No private cabin on 
the ' Egypt ' could beat mine. Fog still thick, but the 
captain expects to reach the Maplin this afternoon. We 
are getting under weigh as I write the same old motion, 
the same old sounds down the river. Very reminding 
of the old days, only I want you and Fred here. The 
flag at our stern is very service-like, a red ensign with 
four ships in the opposite corner to the ' Jack.' There 
are some hundreds of water-barrels (nine gallons) on 
deck, coal and oil, a big buoy to replace one carried away, 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

and I know not what else below. I have my own private 
steward. Be chary of your telegrams, as they involve 
some little favour. I too shall not wire often. Best 
love to you both. 

" Your own Dad." 

After this a brief but joyous telegram or two was the 
only communication received from the exile, now far 
beyond the range of the postman. The Maplin is in 
telephonic communication with Southend, which fact 
explains how messages were received at all. By means 
of the telephone-wire the keepers on that solitary station 
keep in touch with the land they are shut off from for 
several weeks at a stretch. By such intercourse, too, 
they form friendships with men with whom they hold 
frequent converse, perhaps for years, whose voices and 
modes of speech they are familiar with, but whose faces 
they have never seen. 

When Bacon returned at length, greatly improved in 
health by his wholesome sea life, he had much to relate. 
His scientific observations were many, valuable and 
curious, exceeding indeed what he had anticipated, But 
it was the personal details of his strange sojourn that his 
children were especially keen to hear ; and from his ac- 
count, and from the photographs he brought back, they 
strove to picture the remote little world which had been 
his habitation. The main structure of the Maplin, he 
told us, consisted of one chief room the living room 
with odd-shaped side and store rooms opening out of it, 
and three cabins occupied by the two light-keepers and 
himself. Above was the lofty lantern, surrounded by a 
wide gallery, on which hung the harsh-tongued bell that 
in thick weather flung its dolorous monotonous note 
ceaselessly across the oily waves. The two keepers were 



See page 235 


Page 239 

Observations and Adventures 

fine, intelligent men, with whom Bacon was immediately, 
of course, on friendliest terms. One of them he quickly 
found was a self-taught but enthusiastic musician ; in 
the cabin of the other, a youth of cultivated literary 
tastes, he noted, well worn, the complete works of Shake- 
speare. Both were clever cooks, especially skilful at 
baking delicious bread, for which, moreover, they manu- 
factured their own yeast. A scrupulous neatness and 
cleanliness, exceeding that of almost any dwelling-house 
ashore, was of course maintained this is a characteristic 
of the service of Trinity House and, with good and abun- 
dant meals of quite astonishing variety, there was no 
lack of comfort within the restricted boundaries of this 
tiny world. Bacon asked his friends how they bore the 
strain of so long incarceration alone together, and re- 
ceived reply that they seldom or never quarrelled, but 
after the first week or so, when all topics of conversation 
were completely exhausted and, in their narrow life, 
no events arose to create more, relapsed into silence 
rarely broken. 

Bacon's days on the Maplin were marked out by a strict 
routine, commencing at three o'clock in the morning, when 
the night-keeper, coming off duty, roused him and, forti- 
fied by a cup of hot Bovril, he kept two hours' watch on 
the gallery, returning to bed for a couple of hours' more 
sleep until dawn ; after which, rising for good, the day's 
work of observations was broken only by stated meals 
and sundry interludes of hot tea and Bovril, provided 
by the attentive care of his two companions, who, welcom- 
ing with delight the friendly visitor who broke the dreary 
sameness of their lives, looked after his needs with utmost 
vigilance. For the rest, the distant guns across the 
river's mouth, the hooters of the passing vessels, and the 
deep boom of the bell buoy, brought him their own mess- 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

ages. Fog banks sank down upon the brown waters and 
rose again, winds blew, waves curled, and clouds drifted 
with a purpose ; and through the darkness the " Mouse " 
and the " Swin " winked wicked green and yellow eyes 
upon him with a meaning he was quick to interpret. 
It was with much regret, and heartiest best wishes on the 
part of hosts and guest, that, a day coming when un- 
mistakable warnings heralded the approach of rough 
weather and the termination of the experiments, a little 
coasting vessel, opportunely passing, was signalled ; and 
the light-keepers, with difficulty launching the lighthouse 
boat, for the waves ran high, rowed Bacon alongside the 
ship and left him to be landed later in the day at Col- 
chester, after one of the pleasantest experiences of his 

In the ensuing winter Bacon joined the ranks of the 
Lecture Agency, and commenced to deliver popular 
lectures on his work and experiences. He also began to 
write for the press, and henceforward articles from his pen 
appeared at frequent intervals in all the leading journals 
and magazines. It was with a very definite object in 
view that he adopted both these courses. The work 
that he had taken up was proving an exceedingly costly 
hobby. Ballooning, under all circumstances, what with 
the worth of the gas, the labour involved, and the great 
value of the craft itself, is an expensive business ; private 
and special ascents such as Bacon's investigations necessi- 
tated, are far more costly yet. Bacon's slender income 
had of late years, from one cause and another, very visibly 
shrunk, and it soon became evident that his work was 
assuming dimensions out of all proportion to what he 
could afford to spend on it. In other days, and in other 
countries, as he knew well enough, public and private 
funds were to hand to help the aspirant to aeronautical 


Observations and Adventures 

research. But a few abortive attempts at obtaining 
assistance, even of the smallest, from scientific societies 
and the like showed him he must expect no pecuniary 
help from these quarters, and that he must rely on his 
own exertions alone for the wherewithal to carry on the 
labour which had now become his life's work. Hence- 
forward he must contrive to make the work support 
itself, and in this, by dint of sheer hard labour, by toil 
of pen and brain, by interesting influential people, by 
writing and lecturing, he may be said to have fairly suc- 

Nor was the earning of money his sole aim in thus ex- 
ploiting his scientific work and its results. From earliest 
days Bacon had held the strongest views on the im- 
portance to the world not only of the investigator but of 
the popularizer as well. He himself had derived too 
much benefit from the writings of Proctor, Sir Robert 
Ball, Grant Allen, and others of their school, to be likely 
to underestimate the value of the labour which unfolds 
to the multitude knowledge gained by the few. To share 
with others that which he himself had received, to foster 
and encourage the love of science as the highest and best 
education, to expound to the ignorant those laws of 
nature through the neglect of which half the sorrows of 
the world arise this was now, as ever, his dearest wish 
and his most earnest endeavour. 

In February of the following year Bacon read a paper 
on " The Balloon as an instrument of Scientific Research " 
before the Society of Arts. A brief holiday spent in 
Cornwall and the Scilly Isles a very meteorologically 
instructive corner of the British Isles formed the prelude 
to the next summer's campaign. During the winter 
Bacon had been formulating a new departure in his aerial 
acoustic experiments. So far the work had mainly taken 
Q 241 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

the form of studying, from aloft, the carrying of sounds 
rising from below. Now the tables should be turned, 
and listeners on earth should hear and report on the 
artificial thunder he was going to provide for them in 
the clouds. Those terrific cotton powder fog-signals 
with whose power he was now familiar, exploded elec- 
trically beneath the car of his balloon, would form an 
exceedingly good imitation of nature's dread artillery ; 
while through the medium of the daily press it were 
easy enough to enlist hundreds of willing assistants on 
the ground who would listen for the explosions and re- 
cord their nature and intensity. To ensure as many 
listeners as possible, the experiments should take place 
over London or the suburbs, and to avoid error the actual 
time of the firing should not be revealed. 

The novel experiment was, perforce, widely advertised, 
and excited considerable interest ; but the first occasion 
drew a blank, for, through some mistake in the apparatus 
provided, the bombs refused to explode. And yet not 
quite a blank, since next morning's post after the ascent 
brought a score of reports, from all over the country, 
giving full times and detail of the hearing of the unfired 
signals. It at least showed what a little imagination, 
and possibly Easter Monday rifle practice in the distance, 
can bring forth, and threw useful light on the value of 
many observations, regarding the sounds of bursting 
meteors and the like, to be met with in the columns of 
many journals. 

The second trial proved eminently successful, as also 
a trifle exciting to boot. It exemplified yet again if 
further exemplification is indeed needed that the real 
dangers of ballooning arise, not from its obvious risks, 
but from those thousands of small and quite unforeseen 
possibilities against which no amount of forethought 


Observations and Adventures 

can provide. Certainly it seemed as if the balloon, rising 
lazily from the " Welsh Harp," Hendon, rather late on a 
mid- April day, and drifting on the lightest of breezes 
southward over London, could have but the tamest and 
least eventful of voyages. So, somewhat regretfully, 
thought the voyagers, disregarding the fact that the gas 
which inflated the silk was heavy and wanting in lifting 
power, that they were overladen (Bacon's son and Mr. 
Thomas Simpson, a scientific friend and frequent aerial 
comrade, were of the party), and had been obliged to 
abandon the anchor and half the trail-rope and ascend 
with only a few pounds of ballast ; while they were, 
at the time, ignorant of the further detail that the valve- 
rope was out of position, thus rendering the valve beyond 
their control. 

Lazily they drifted towards the great city, and pre- 
sently, when the houses grew thicker beneath them, with 
some little trepidation as to the wholly unknown result, 
they revolved the handle of the dynamo they carried, and 
touched the wires that exploded the detonating cartridge 
slung 120 feet below the car. They all knew the quite 
appalling force of the explosion of these signals when fired 
upon the ground, and the mere pistol-shot which im- 
mediately greeted their ears came as a complete anti- 
climax to their excited expectation. Of course they 
broke into disappointed exclamations and fears of failure, 
cut short hurriedly by a mighty uproar, like the falling 
of heaven itself, as from the boundless bosom of the earth 
there rolled back the million echoes of the sound, gathered 
up in one terrific whole, and fading gradually away in long- 
prolonged reverberation. 

It was a strange and marvellously impressive expe- 
rience, repeated many times as they floated over Kensal 
Green, Westbourne Park, and Wormwood Scrubbs. 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

Repetition in no way detracted from its wonder, though 
it demonstrated again and again a remarkable result 
which subsequent experiments never failed to enforce. 
Most careful record was kept of the times of the explosion 
and of the hearing of the echo from earth, and in each 
case an unmistakable and well-marked " lagging " of the 
echo was detected, as if the sound-waves travelled less 
rapidly upwards than downwards through the air an 
altogether unexpected occurrence. 
, Slowly and more slowly on the dying evening breeze 
their balloon hovered over Kensington, until just above 
the tiny toy which stood for the Great Wheel at Earl's 
Court it came to a complete standstill. Time passed and 
the darkness gathered, yet still they hung there immov- 
able, save for the fact that the chilled balloon was gradu- 
ally sinking nearer the earth. Their ballast was gone, 
the valve rope had failed them, their craft was out of 
control, and they were becalmed above the housetops. 
A forced descent on an extremely unfavourable landing- 
place, and a heavy bill for damages to roofs and chimney- 
pots, seemed before them. For this they prepared them- 
selves, and indeed almost looked forward to the sensation 
they were about to create since the experience, though 
costly, would scarcely be dangerous when suddenly a 
new peril very literally " flashed " upon them, and the 
element of horror leapt instantly into their calculations. 
A street below was in a minute outlined with a string of 
gas lamps, glimmering brightly in the gloom, then another 
and another, till the glow-worms thickly speckled the 
whole ground below each light a deadly menace to the 
inflammable explosive gas of their balloon, apparently just 
about to sink into their very midst. Strong measures 
were inevitable, if indeed the threatened disaster, the 
results of which did not bear thinking about, could 


Observations and Adventures 

anyhow be averted. The heavy and costly dynamo, bor- 
rowed property and highly treasured, must go overboard, 
no matter at what risk to heads below ; and the trail rope 
was hauled in on which to partially lower it to the ground. 
Meanwhile the balloon sank, and by so doing escaped 
its fate. The river was close at hand, and along its bed 
and close to the earth a scarce perceptible breeze was 
breathing. Slowly, very slowly, the balloon began to 
drift again, creeping low over the housetops, while the 
aeronauts counted each yard of ground covered. The 
gas lamps thinned out, open ground was at last before 
them, and in market gardens at Willesden their race was 
narrowly won. 

The acoustical results of this voyage were many and 
deeply instructive, and pointed to the necessity for other 
trials of a like nature. Accordingly, taking advantage 
of an advertised balloon ascent, Bacon went up from 
the Crystal Palace on the following Whit Monday, again 
equipped with sound-signals to fire from aloft. It is 
surely the fact that the possibilities and surprises of 
balloon travel are endless, and can in no wise be pre- 
dicted, even under, apparently, the most ordinary con- 
ditions, that gives, in a prosaic age when adventures 
are far to seek, its especial fascination to sky sailing. 
No two voyages are ever alike, and this ascent in par- 
ticular was to stand out from the rest as, in several points, 
peculiar. The balloon party were three in number, a 
young aeronautical enthusiast accompanying Bacon 
and Mr. Percival Spencer aloft, taking his place, by his 
own special request, perched up in the " ring " from which 
the car is slung, and thus in close proximity to the open 
mouth of the balloon. Whit Monday was following its 
usual unpropitious weather traditions, and drizzling rain- 
cloud hung heavy upon damp and dispirited sight-seers, 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

and obscured the tops of the lofty towers of the Crystal 
Palace in dismal mist. 

The wind was light, but constant, setting towards 
the west, a fact specially noted by the aeronauts, who 
foresaw that in a short time they would lose sight of the 
earth among the clouds. This, in fact, they quickly did ; 
but they were scarcely prepared for the exceeding thick- 
ness of the fog, so dense that in passing through it they 
could scarcely distinguish each other's faces ; or for the 
overpoweringly bright sunshine above and matchless 
beauty of the scene into which they burst. Above the 
clouds through which they had risen were higher clouds, 
from which, as they neared them, they perceived that 
fine rain was falling, rain which never reached the ground, 
but was absorbed in drier atmosphere below. Rising 
still above these they were bathed in fierce sunlight of a 
brilliance unknown on earth, at least in foggy England. 
White patches of loftier cloud still hung above, and be- 
neath the sea of snowy glistening vapour, piled and 
tossed into mountain waves and billows as of some storm- 
swept ocean, presented that rapturous scene of inde- 
scribable heavenly beauty that only the aeronaut, and 
occasionally to a lesser degree the mountaineer, are 
privileged to behold. 

Bacon was overjoyed, for it was the acoustic properties, 
whether conductive or non-conductive, of just such a 
barrier of cloud that he was above all anxious to test. 
He and Mr. Spencer were soon busy with their bomb firing, 
and while so engaged their attention was temporarily 
withdrawn from their companion in the ring, until a 
sound from aloft suddenly awoke them to the fact that 
all was not well with him. It was apparent at once that 
a fit of some kind had seized him, and that his wits had 
entirely forsaken him, as, screaming and foaming at the 



Page 246 

Observations and Adventures 

mouth, he clung convulsively to the ropes. The first 
duty was obviously to get him down from his dangerous 
position, and with infinite difficulty Bacon and Spencer, 
climbing on the edge of the car, unfastened his clenched 
fingers and half supported, half dropped him down into 
the basket beneath. Here he lay inert among the sand- 
bags, wholely senseless, white as death, and to all ap- 
pearance absolutely lifeless. In vain his horrified com- 
panions listened for his breathing, felt his heart, or raised 
the limp hand which fell again with sickening suggest- 
iveness. In vain they tried to force brandy between 
his clenched teeth. No water or other means of recover- 
ing him was at hand. There was not a breath of air to 
fan his cheek. They could but loosen his clothes, tie 
handkerchiefs round the ropes to shield his head from 
the fierce sun, and gently bestow his long limbs as easily 
as might be in the hopelessly cramped quarters of that 
tiny basket. It added greatly to their distress and to 
the difficulty of their position, that they believed, from 
the direction of the wind when they left the earth, that 
the suburbs of London must yet lie thickly below them ; 
so that an immediate descent could not possibly be risked, 
especially with their helpless burden in the car. Their 
only course was to stay aloft for some while longer, until 
they could fairly presume that they were over open 
country. Meanwhile they had come hopelessly to the 
end of their very slight medical knowledge, and of the 
nature or cause of the sufferer's seizure they could not 
even guess. Truly it was a strange and a most woebegone 
little party in that wicker basket lost above the clouds ! 

For some while Spencer and Bacon really believed 
their poor companion, lying limply among the sandbags 
at their feet, to be dead, and their feelings are easier 
imagined than described. Will it be instanced in proof 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

of the supposed callousness of the scientific mind that, 
having done everything in their power for his recovery 
and failed, they continued their acoustic experiments 
and fired the rest of the bombs they had brought aloft 
with them ? 

So time wore on, and it was with relief of mind in- 
describable that they presently perceived in their com- 
rade signs of returning animation. Slowly and painfully 
he was coming to his senses, and his first articulate words 
disclosed the nature of his illness : " It was that horrid 
gas ! " Then they understood. The balloon had risen 
with great rapidity, and the young man up in the ring 
had breathed, perforce, the volumes of carburetted 
hydrogen pouring from the open mouth of the silk just 
above him had been, in fact, asphyxiated. If a doctor 
had been present he would have adopted artificial re- 
spiration to expel the poison from the lungs, but the 
aeronauts can scarcely be blamed that this remedy had 
not occurred to them. 

By this time, too, the balloon was sinking earthward, 
and they considered they now might safely descend. 
They had been aloft nearly two hours, and by ordinary 
calculation should find themselves over Berkshire or 
Hampshire. Their course was directly westward when 
they rose, their height had not been excessive, the char- 
acter of the day was unchanged ; and though they had 
completely lost sight of the ground since the start and 
thus had no exact knowledge of their course, they were 
confident they could not be far out in their reckoning. 

So the valve was opened, and down they swooped into 
the dark abyss of the cloud, and as they sank through 
its depths there arose a strange sound from beneath. 
What could cause that splashing murmur which filled 
their ears ? It was not a mill-stream or a waterfall, or 



Page 249 

Observations and Adventures 

the tossing of boughs in a gale. Surely below it must 
be raining heavily, and this was the splashing of rain- 
drops on the leaves of one of the extensive woods of Berk- 

One more moment of uncertainty, then the clouds 
broke beneath, and behold the sea ! Wide grey waters, 
breaking waves, and a cargo boat so close beneath that 
the long trail-rope swept the deck, and astonished sailors 
stared open-mouthed and speechless at such an apparition 
sinking suddenly out of the overcast skies. Apparently 
a descent was about to be made in the ocean ; an alto- 
gether disastrous contingency, especially with a sick 
man in the car, who though slowly recovering was still 
terribly ill and faint and incapable of exertion. 

But as the lifting cloud disclosed wider horizon they 
perceived shore at some distance on either side, and the 
estuary of a wide river with ships passing up and down 
that it was impossible not to recognize as the Thames. 
But how could this be, when their course from the Crystal 
Palace had been due west ? And behold they were 
travelling westward still, going up the river towards town, 
and they were soon looking directly downward into the 
fort at Gravesend ! Here was indeed a marked instance 
of the vagaries of the wind : two currents of air, one 
above and one below the cloud barrier, blowing at the 
same time in diametrically opposite directions. Lucky 
it was they had descended when they did, or they might 
have found themselves so far out over the German Ocean 
that they would never have won back to land. 

Ballast was now almost expended, and, the balloon 
keeping in midstream, it seemed as if a watery landing- 
place was still inevitable. But presently, at a bend in 
the bank, they drifted inland low down over the house- 
tops of Greenwich. The three-hundred-foot trail-rope, 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

wet and heavy, which had been dragging in the water, 
was now actually slanting across the streets, climbing the 
sides of the houses, and rattling across the tiles. To 
attempt to haul it in would be to bring the car itself 
right down on the houses. Surely some damage must 
be done soon ! and quickly there came a crash which 
Bacon ascribed to a falling chimney, but Spencer, more 
correctly, to a broken window. Luckily, at the last 
moment, a forgotten half-bag of ballast was discovered 
at the bottom of the car, and by its help the town was 
cleared and a safe descent made in open ground some 
miles beyond. 

During the ensuing summer Bacon invested in a motor- 
car. It was a small Benz car, with a belt-driven engine 
and solid tyres, capable when all went well of carrying 
three passengers. But all was not always well. Bacon 
was of course his own chauffeur. He loved his little car, 
and was exceedingly proud of its performances ; and 
certainly no one but he could have got so much out of its 
exasperating machinery. But motor-cars in those days 
were in their earliest and most inexperienced youth. 
The best of them were unreliable and subject to frequent 
breakdowns. Bacon's car was cheap, under-engined, 
and second-hand to boot. Yet he drove it for five years 
(when he exchanged it for a larger one), and succeeded 
in extracting from it an amount of use and pleasure out of 
all proportion to its worth or capabilities. 

In the intervals between his ascents he employed him- 
self in acoustic experiments on earth, testing echoes, and 
the like. By permission of the Duke of Marlborough he 
made an expedition to Woodstock Park, to investigate 
the famous echo there which guide-books and textbooks 
still insist upon as repeating seventeen syllables by day 
and twenty by night. With detonating rockets he 



Page 251 

Observations and Adventures 

roused echoes at Fair Rosamund's Well such as had 
never' been heard there before, but of the seventeen 
repetitions he found no sign ; nor was he likely to, since 
investigation proved that they rested solely on the author- 
ity of an observer who flourished no less than two hundred 
years ago, when buildings, long since destroyed, were 
yet in existence. This he found but a typical instance 
of much textbook information on acoustic and other 

In a balloon ascent made from Newbury this August 
he and the Messrs. Maskelyne between them introduced 
a quite novel experiment. Mr. Nevil Maskelyne had 
lately begun his investigations in wireless telegraphy 
which have since rendered him famous ; and it was now 
proposed that, for the first time, the new discovery should 
be applied to balloon travel, and apparatus carried in a 
free balloon capable of receiving messages transmitted 
from earth. As possessing no little importance from a 
strategic and military point of view, the experiment 
excited wide interest in many quarters, and was freely 
commented on in the daily press. Full precautions 
were taken for its success. A lofty pole in the field at 
Newbury, whence the balloon was to ascend, carried one of 
the necessary long vertical wires, while the other wire 
was run up the rigging of the balloon to the top of the 
silk. The transmitting apparatus was considered too 
heavy to bear aloft, and the aeronauts contented them- 
selves with carrying the small " receiver," being thus able 
only to receive and not to transmit the wireless messages. 
The result proved a signal success. The day was perfect, 
the sky flecked with summer clouds, behind which the 
balloon became presently hidden from view. Above 
the rolling vapour, in a fairyland of their own, the aero- 
nautical party were as completely severed from earth and 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

the friends they had left behind them as it was possible 
to conceive. And yet not so, for there in the car between 
them the delicate bell of the little apparatus they carried 
continued to tinkle forth the messages which Mr. Maske- 
lyne, in the field now ten or twelve miles away, was still 
flashing to them across empty space. 

Later in the summer Bacon experienced two sad dis- 
appointments. He was particularly keen to test the 
theory, held by many aeronauts and meteorologists, 
that high aloft in the sky there is always to be found a 
constant and unvarying wind-current blowing from west 
to east, and corresponding with the direction of motion 
of the earth's rotation. Experienced balloonists have 
made no doubt of this current. In fact both Green in 
England and Wise in America each desired to attempt 
an aerial crossing of the Atlantic, so certain were they 
of finding a driving wind for the purpose. Bacon more 
modestly essayed to settle the point by crossing the 
North Sea from London, if possible to the coast of Den- 

The mere crossing of the Channel from England to 
France he considered a feat altogether too hackneyed and 
cockney to engage his attention ; but a voyage to Den- 
mark would mean five hundred miles of salt water to 
traverse, while a wind but a few points more from the 
north would yet entail a fairly respectable voyage to 
northern Germany or the neighbourhood of the Zuyder 
Zee. In either case, however, it would be unwise to 
start unless the breeze were absolutely favourable, both 
in direction and intensity ; especially as no very large 
balloon was available for the purpose, so that the amount 
of ballast to be carried would perforce be small for so 
great a distance to be traversed. 

Arrangements were accordingly made that a balloon 


Observations and Adventures 

then doing captive work at the Crystal Palace should be 
at Bacon's disposal to start with the first fair wind ; and 
Bacon accordingly came to town and spent a fortnight, 
mainly at the Palace itself, ready and waiting to take 
instant advantage of the first favourable occasion. But 
the occasion never came. Once or twice the wished for 
wind blew for a short while, but before preparations 
were complete had veered again. At the final attempt 
a sudden squall arose, swept the balloon ground, tore 
away ropes and netting, and would have utterly destroyed 
the balloon itself had not the silk been promptly emptied. 
The second disappointment was at the meeting of the 
British Association held this year at Dover. Here again 
the wind frustrated the promised experiments. The 
season was now drawing to a close, and Bacon feared 
that there was but little likelihood of retrieving his ill 
fortune. An adventurous voyage, however, was shortly 
before him, which, in its way, was to establish a record 
in English aeronautics. To this, as perhaps Bacon's 
most famous experience, as it was certainly his greatest 
peril, a fresh chapter is due. 



ON the 1 6th of November, 1899, astronomers pre- 
dicted a return of that great shower of meteors, 
radiating from the constellation " Leo " and known as the 
" Leonids," whose periodic recurrence thrice a century, 
at thirty-three years' interval, had until then been one 
of the great events of astronomical chronology. The 
last display, in 1866, had proved a marvellous sight, still 
fresh in the memories of the older generation. All classes, 
and not the scientific world alone, were deeply interested 
in the coming marvel ; and half England were forming 
resolutions to sit up until the early hours that night, and 
rouse up the children to behold a wonder they would 
remember all the rest of their lives. 

But, alas, the skies of foggy November were not to be 
relied upon. It seemed more than likely, in that season 
of mists, that thick clouds would intervene, and astron- 
omers and sightseers alike be balked of their marvel. 
Clearly here was an obvious opening for a balloon, by 
which means alone, in the very probable event of an 
overcast night, record could be obtained of the coming 
meteors. Bacon had a strong case, which he presented 
to influential quarters. As a result "The Times " news- 
paper itself rose to the occasion, and generously under- 
took to finance an ascent which should ensure the fact 
that some English witnesses at least should behold and 
report upon the expected shower. 


A Perilous Voyage 

To obtain the best possible results from the mission 
entrusted to him, Bacon consulted the chief authorities, 
both astronomical and aeronautical. The former told 
him that, while the shower was pretty confidently pre- 
dicted for the early hours of November the i6th, it was 
just possible it might appear twenty-four hours earlier ; 
so that it would be as well to be prepared to ascend, if 
necessary, the night before. Aeronautical experts, re- 
presented by the Spencer Brothers, advised in this case 
that, as the balloon might have to remain inflated for a 
long while before starting, one of large size should be 
employed, and a " solid " or " ripping " valve substituted 
for the usual " Butterfly " variety ; which, though poss- 
essing the undoubted advantage of being able to be 
opened and shut while the balloon is aloft, can, by no 
amount of " luting," be rendered absolutely gas-tight. 

A " ripping " valve can best be described by likening 
it to the top of a jam-pot. A piece of the varnished silk 
of which the balloon itself is made is drawn tight over 
the orifice at the top, and hermetically sealed down. A 
sharp wrench alone, at the end of the voyage, tears this 
covering bodily away, leaving a large gaping hole through 
which, of course, the gas escapes with great rapidity. For 
this reason, and because the valve when once wrenched 
apart cannot again be closed, the voyage must be 
at an end and the balloon quite close to the ground before 
the hole be torn open ; otherwise so quickly does the 
balloon empty a fatal fall to earth would inevitably 
result. This form of valve is perfectly gas-tight, neither, 
under ordinary circumstances, does it present any danger- 
ous disadvantages. It is rarely the case in balloon travel 
that the aeronaut requires to open his valve until the 
last moment. Gas is always wasting away through silk 
or joints or open neck while the craft is afloat ; so that 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

the difficulty is not to come down, but to keep up and 
prevent the balloon sinking of its own accord. Only by 
the frequent discharge of ballast well called the " life " 
of a balloon, can the aeronaut hope to maintain his 
position in the sky. 

The ascent was to take place from the grounds of the 
Newbury gas-works, and the aeronautical party were 
three in number ; Mr. Stanley Spencer, younger, though 
no less experienced member of the firm, being in charge 
of the balloon, and the writer accompanying her father 
as assistant. According to arrangement, the silk was 
inflated with its 56,000 cubic feet of gas, and everything in 
readiness by the evening of Tuesday, the I4th. The night, 
however, proved clear and cloudless, and it was soon 
apparent that there were no meteors to ascend for. Evi- 
dently the astronomers were correct in their calculations, 
and the shower was coming at the predicted time. 

Wednesday, the I5th, closed in dark and heavy. Thick- 
est clouds covered the sky, and all over England thou- 
sands of would-be observers retired disgustedly to bed 
in bitter disappointment. Not so the three aeronauts, 
excitedly waiting at Coldash. Such a night was just 
what they wanted. It was the very presence of the 
clouds which justified their ascent and gave them the 
opportunity for which they were thirsting. 

A couple of hours' sleep was snatched, a meal partaken 
of, and then at midnight the trio, heavily coated and laden 
with impedimenta, drove into Newbury in the little car 
and spent an hour or two at the Guildhall Club, kept 
open all night for the occasion. Careful deliberation had 
fixed four a.m. as the hour of the ascent. Firstly because 
from four to six the shower was predicted at its height ; 
secondly because above those clouds the balloonists 
would quickly lose all sight of earth, and a prolonged 


A Perilous Voyage 

journey must not be embarked on, since, with the pre- 
vailing wind, it would almost certainly lead them to the 

On the way to the gas-works the probable duration of 
the voyage was discussed and settled. The wind was 
light but constant, blowing directly west, and the darkness 
above made it impossible to tell the drift of upper currents. 
If the breeze aloft was the same as below by no means 
a certainty we should follow the course of the Kennet 
Valley and Great Western Railway, and reach the sea 
at Bristol, sixty miles away. Putting the force of the 
wind at thirty miles an hour, our voyage should last but a 
couple of hours. Probably the speed was less, so three 
hours might perhaps be risked ; but four would be very 
unsafe, and anything beyond quite out of the question. 
In the practically certain event of losing all sight of the 
earth above the clouds, we finally decided to finish our 
voyage at dawn, when our work would be at an end ; 
though should the wind bear us northward, and the clouds 
breaking allow us to see our course, we might be tempted 
to keep up a little longer. 

It was a weirdly impressive scene at the gas-works 
that black November night. The moon, though at the 
full, yet could not penetrate the heavy wetting mist now 
settled into a fine drizzle ; and flaming gaslights dimly 
revealed hundreds of white upturned faces, and glittered 
on the shiny sides of the damp silk towering up mon- 
strously into the darkness, its top completely hidden in 
the gloom. A large crowd who, despite the weather, 
had patiently waited all night, heralded our arrival with 
cheers. Soon the gold-braided aeronaut and his eager 
assistants were swarming about the balloon in their 
final preparations, carrying sandbags, adjusting the ring, 
the valve-cord, the trail-rope and the heavy grapnel. 
R 257 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

Next our paraphernalia was stowed in the car a camera, 
field-glasses, a specially constructed instrument for col- 
lecting the meteoric dust that might be floating in the 
upper air, notebooks, pencils, and star-maps on which 
to chart the meteor tracks, a Davy lamp to light us, rugs 
and great coats, and a thick packet of sandwiches. No- 
thing had been forgotten; even life-belts, in case of a 
possible descent in the sea, had been provided, but at the 
last it seemed ridiculous to be burdened with what was so 
obviously needless, and they were left behind. Lastly 
we ourselves scrambled into our wicker basket, and amid 
general enthusiasm, shouts of farewell, and the wild 
tooting of the steam hooter at the gas-works, our craft 
rose gracefully and swiftly into the darkness. For some 
three or four minutes the spectators below, straining their 
eyes, could still trace the dim light of our Davy lamp 
hovering over the town. Then it vanished in the mist 
and the crowd went home to bed, expecting by breakfast- 
time at latest to hear tidings of our descent, probably 
not so very far distant. Bacon had, of course, promised 
the Guildhall Club that he would wire them the earliest 
intimation on reaching the ground. Yet hour by hour 
went by and no news came ; and when morning wore to 
afternoon, lunch-time to tea-time, and still no telegram, 
friends grew more and more nervous as to our safety, and 
anxious excitement ran high. 

Meantime, we in the car, quickly exchanging the tur- 
moil of the start for the calm silence of the free heavens, 
were in a very few minutes enveloped in the cloud. Very 
dense and oppressive we found it, and through its stifling, 
clinging folds our balloon could but with the utmost diffi- 
culty force her upward way. Bag after bag of ballast 
was emptied rapidly over the side, and still the indicator 
of the tell-tale aneroid recorded but little progress. The 


A Perilous Voyage 

cloud was 1500 feet deep, and it took four sandbags to 
clear it, an unprecedented quantity for so short a time. 
But the contents of the fourth was scarcely discharged 
before, at last, the vapour broke above our heads, and we 
emerged into a realm of beauty aloft that none but we 
three in all the world were privileged to enter. 

For us alone the full moon, strange tawny copper in 
hue, reigned glorious in the heaven, ringed about with 
a wondrous double halo of brightest rainbow tints. For 
us alone Sinus flashed magnesium blue, and the other 
stars glistened as jewels in a blue-black velvet sky. For 
us, and us alone, was spread that " perilous sea, in faery 
lands forlorn," whose filmy, tossing billows were turned 
to silver in the moonlight, whose deep hollows harboured 
shadows of richest purple, whose boundless, snowy ex- 
panse stretched to the horizon's furthest limit in one 
vast, silent, glorious ocean. For a while we gazed spell- 
bound and speechless at this crowning marvel of loveliness 
of all our lives. For quite an appreciable interval we 
forgot the meteors ; and when, after a while, we looked 
upwards at the empty sky and the bright sickle of Leo, 
from which not one " Leonid " would condescend to 
" shoot," we had scarcely room for disappointment that 
the marvellous shower had never come after all. 

I doubt if we saw a dozen meteors all that night ; but 
the unutterable beauty of the fairy land we had invaded 
was amplest recompense for our trouble, and delightedly 
we made a compact to come meteor-hunting again the 
next year and every year afterwards ! But before this 
we had been much concerned at finding the balloon sink- 
ing back again into the mist. Two more sandbags had to 
go at once, and then another, making seven altogether 
in twenty minutes. This was quite exceptional, and 
could only be accounted for by supposing the silk of the 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

balloon to have become heavily moisture-laden in its 
passage through the fog, and the gas chilled in the colder 
upper air. Mr. Spencer hesitated indeed at the seventh 
bag, and questioned the wisdom of parting with weight 
so rapidly. But Bacon reminded him that our duty 
was not yet fulfilled, and instructed him, at all hazards, 
to keep aloft for some while longer. So the sand shower 
went hurtling downwards just before we touched the 
cloud floor, and after this we maintained an even height 
3000 feet above the earth, just above the top of the 
mists, and, at the time, we congratulated ourselves upon 
the fact. 

We were a supremely happy party up there in fairy- 
land, wrapped in rugs, nibbling dry sandwiches, counting 
stray meteors, and trying to judge from the occasional 
sounds of earth that reached us our probable landing- 
place. A chorus of wild barkings early in the voyage 
revealed we were over the kennels of Ashdown. The 
rumble of a train and the rhythmic clatter of horses' hoofs 
stood for the G.W.R. and the Bath Road. As six o'clock 
approached we caught the buzzing of a steam hooter, and 
imagined ourselves somewhere in the vicinity of the 
Westbury iron- works. A church clock below tolled out 
the hour, and almost on the moment one of us, facing 
eastward, uttered an exclamation, and, turning, we beheld 
in the already fast-lightening sky the breaking flush of 
dawn. With great rapidity the daylight strengthened ; 
and as it invaded the realm over which the moon had 
lately held sole sway the white ocean turned green and 
copper and golden, the stars faded, and thick grey mists 
swept upwards to hide the face of the conquered satellite 
as she sank, vanquished, towards the west. Then from 
below, as in a'paean of victory, came up a chorus of piercing 
cockcrows, shrill, continuous, and triumphant. Seem- 



A Perilous Voyage 

ingly there were many poultry farms below ; and since 
the cocks aroused the dogs, and the dogs in turn woke 
up the cows, the rural cantata was loud and varied. 

The grey mists were sweeping around our basket too, 
and stretching up clammy arms to clasp us. Surely 
our descent must be near at hand, and an easy landing 
in the still dawn assured. Yet a glance at the aneroids 
revealed the astonishing fact that our height was un- 
changed, though no further ballast had now been thrown 
out for an hour and more. Also, as it grew lighter and 
lighter, the mist wreaths rolled up lower and less frequently 
around us, as if they lacked the power to enfold us in their 
damp embrace. An awkward silence had fallen on our 
trio, and Mr. Spencer's genial face looked strangely white 
in the dawn. Presently the situation began to dawn on 
me. " Would it be safe," I inquired, " supposing in 
another half-hour we are at the same height, to pull the 
valve open ? " Quickly and emphatically the answer 
came, " No ! " and then I understood. In another half- 
hour the sun would have risen, and with bright beams be 
drying the silk and expanding the gas, in which case 
should we not rise instead of fall, and rise for how long ? 

The next half-hour passed almost in silence ; but the 
changing beauty of the dawn had lost its charm. Mr. 
Spencer continually threw out of the car tiny scraps of 
paper which fluttered ominously downwards. Bacon 
leant far out looking at the cloud floor, and in so doing 
his cap dropped overboard and disappeared instantly in 
the mist. Then indeed we laughed, for we pictured the 
scene below, saw in imagination the unsophisticated 
rustic going to milk in the early dawn, and fancied his 
face as, from the cloudy, overcast sky above, there falls 
at his feet coming from heaven as it were an ancient 
cap ! After this, above the sinking mists there shot up a 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

brilliant ray of light, obscured for a moment, but rising 
again higher and higher ; and as we gazed, fascinated, we 
saw the dazzling body of the sun in golden splendour 
mount majestically into his kingdom. Below us the 
creeping vapours, like baffled spirits of the night, sank 
down for the last time. Above us was the cloudless blue 
and the gaudy seams of the balloon, stretched tight and 
dry in the warming beams. Beside us, slung under the 
extinguished Davy lamp, the aneroids indicated a rise 
of 500 feet. 

It was no use pretending any longer. We were cornered 
caught in a trap. The sun would continue to increase in 
power and warmth ; our balloon would continue to rise 
into realms where no clouds could form to shield us. It 
was now seven o'clock, and not for five long hours, till 
noon was past, could we even hope to descend. Five 
more hours in the narrow world in which we had already 
spent nearly three, was not in itself a terrible fate. There 
were plenty of dry sandwiches left in the packet, although 
certainly the contents of one of the ballast bags had be- 
come somewhat mixed up with them, and made them 
sand-wiches in literal truth. The bright sunbeams would 
ensure our being warm enough, November though it was. 
Our limbs were growing cramped in our little basket 
(six feet long, by three and a half wide and three deep) 
but not unendurably so. No, it was not here that our 
trouble lay, but in the awful uncertainty of our position, 
our inability to see the earth and so to judge in any way 
our direction or speed, our knowledge that we had already 
exceeded the time we had considered safe to be aloft 
when we left the ground, and our hopeless conviction 
that we were already close approaching the Atlantic, 
out over which we must surely float, hour after hour, 
beyond hope of rescue, until, with declining day, our spent 



See page 256 


Page 263 

A Perilous Voyage 

balloon sank down far out on that watery waste, to rise 
no more. 

For the time indeed we were over the country, and 
clearly travelling at a very slow rate. For almost half 
an hour we hung above one particular farm, and were 
able distinctly to recognize and distinguish the voices of 
its varied and vociferous live stock. But we were rising 
rapidly, 600 feet at least each quarter of an hour, and 
earth's peaceful voices melted one by one into the silence 
of space. Soon beneath us the white snow-sheet of the 
cloud floor lay flat and glistening a whole mile distant. 
To our lofty eyrie only the whistle and rumble of trains 
seemed able to penetrate ; and yet, all too soon, there 
rose another softer sound, that confirmed our worst fears 
and sent the blood rushing to our hearts as with one 
accord we exclaimed to each other, " We are over the 
sea ! " The sound was the shrill, well-remembered shriek 
of a ship's steam siren, and mingled with it was the clash 
and clang of hammers in a dockyard seaport town. But 
more ominous far than these was that gentle rhythmic 
beat, that softly sighing accompaniment that could be- 
long to one thing and one thing only in all the world. 
Who that has ever heard its distant murmur can mistake 
the sound of breaking waves upon a pebbly beach ? 

So our fears were realized, and we had reached the 
Atlantic at last. Now there remained but a few hours 
dragging, weary wait before our journey ended in the 
waves. Probably our balloon would float awhile on the 
waters, but we had no life-belts, and heavy net and cord- 
age would entangle and hold us down. It was small 
odds indeed, on that wide ocean, that we fell within sight 
or aid of a ship. In very truth our case was desperate, 
and Mr. Spencer was in favour of ripping open the valve 
put his hand, in fact, upon the valve-rope. There was 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

the feeble chance, even then, that if in the awful descent 
that would ensue we threw everything out of the car, 
down to our own hats and coats, the empty silk, collapsing 
into a parachute, might bring us down alive. But Bacon 
restrained him. The risk was too terrible to contemplate. 
It was a choice of evils indeed, but drowning seemed a 
preferable death to being dashed to pieces. 

To the writer, recalling the hours that followed, indelibly 
imprinted on the mind as they must ever be, the fact 
that stands out the clearest was Bacon's own absolute 
calmness and apparent perfect indifference to his fate. 
One thing alone seemed in the least to trouble him 
the press telegram that he was writing to " The Times." 
With the utmost care he composed his message, turned 
the sentences, counted the words, and copied them out 
on the forms. He was rather proud of what he had 
written, read it aloud for commendation, and was really 
genuinely distressed to think that Mr. Moberly Bell and 
his readers might not, after all, receive the benefit of it. 
Beyond this absurd and tiny detail the situation had no 
terrors for him, the near approach of death no fears. 
For himself he minded not at all, for his two younger 
companions he was all sympathy and consideration. 
The more desperate our circumstances grew, the more 
persistently cheerful he became. " If only we come out 
of this alive," he said, " what friends we shall all be ! " 
this by way of cheering poor Mr. Spencer, thinking, as 
we knew, of his wife and little one at home, to whom, we 
believed, he wrote his farewell message. Breakfast was 
his next suggestion, and obediently we consumed an 
unappetizing meal. After this he proposed photography, 
and we unpacked the camera and snap-shotted the cloud 
floor, the sky, the open mouth of the balloon, and finally 
each other, huddled up in the corners of the car. The 


A Perilous Voyage 

sun by this time was growing almost uncomfortably 
powerful, and to shield ourselves somewhat from his rays 
we tied scarves and coats about the ropes, and Bacon, 
since his cap was gone, improvised a head-covering from 
a pocket-handkerchief, the knotted ends of which hung 
in ridiculous fashion about his grey whiskers and patri- 
archal beard. In truth we were a forlorn crew, in a for- 
lorn plight, and fairyland had proved a trap, and meteor 
hunting had brought us woe. Bacon waxed facetious 
at our rueful faces, and we had at least one hearty laugh 
over a situation that had comic as well as tragic sides 
to it. 

For long we heard the sea beneath us (subsequent 
events led us to suppose we traversed some twenty miles 
of the Bristol Channel), but all the while from time to 
time arose sounds that made us believe we were still in 
the vicinity of some big sea-port town. We imagined 
it to be Bristol (though it may have been Cardiff), and 
we wondered if no help were to be had from all those 
thousands below, whose willingness to aid us we could 
not doubt, did they only know of our situation a couple 
of miles above them, behind the clouds. Suddenly we 
bethought us of the press telegraph forms with which 
Bacon's pockets were filled. Why not use them as 
distress messages to the folk beneath, and get them to 
warn the coastguards round the neighbouring shores 
that we expected shortly to descend in the sea, so that 
they might be on the lookout and have their boats in 
readiness to pick us up if we came down in sight of land ? 
It was the maddest of chances to rely on, of course, and 
the feeblest of straws to clutch at, but at least it was 
better than nothing. So out came pencil and forms, 
and, dividing the labour equally among us, during the 
next three hours we wrote and posted over the side three 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

dozen or so neatly folded notes, labelled " Important," 
and bearing the following message within : 

" Large balloon from Newbury overhead, above clouds. 
Cannot descend. Telegraph to sea coast (coastguards) 
to be ready to rescue. 

" BACON AND SPENCER, n a.m. Nov. 16." 

Surely their destination was the Bristol Channel, for two 
only were ever heard of again picked up several days 
later on the Welsh mountains near Pontypridd, appar- 
ently many miles from where we threw them out. 

Yet they served their purpose, if only in passing the 
time. They helped the hour of noon to come at last, 
and almost with the hour came our earliest ray of hope. 
Bacon, who kept watch over the aneroids, announced 
that we had fallen since the last reading from 9000 feet 
(our greatest height) to 7000, and were still falling. Nor 
was this all. Mr. Spencer, who had been gazing long 
and silently upon the cloud floor far below, suddenly 
exclaimed, " I can see a church ! " It seemed impossible 
to suppose he could really have seen anything of the sort, 
and I knew from the soothing way in which my father 
laid a hand upon his shoulder and said, " Where, my good 
fellow, where ? " that he thought the long strain and hot 
sun had affected our aeronaut's head, and that he was 
wandering. But, looking down also, we saw to our surprise 
that the cloud floor was thinning beneath us, as snow 
melting in the sunbeams, and actually breaking in places 
into pits and hollows, through one of which we caught 
a momentary glimpse of a white thread on a pink ground. 
The thread we knew for a road, and red soil belongs to 
the West of England. Land and not sea was still beneath 
us, but the next glimpse showed us our pace was quick- 


A Perilous Voyage 

erring, and we wondered if we should yet reach the ocean 
before our voyage was at an end. 

How slowly our balloon, dying obstinately by inches, 
crept down the sky, falling a hundred feet, stopping 
altogether, and then retrograding ninety-five. How 
fast and faster sped the earth beneath, seen in momentary 
peeps among the rolling vapour. For two long hours 
more the most trying of our ten-hour voyage the race 
continued, and then, at length, when nerves were strained 
near to breaking point, the mists once more received us, 
enveloped us but for a few minutes, and then let us 
through again beneath. Sea was before us and not far 
distant, but we heeded it not, since we were falling, now 
with great rapidity, on peaceful green fields below. The 
earth was rushing up towards us at a great rate, but not 
for the world would we risk, by the discharge of a grain 
more ballast than was necessary, a return to those weari- 
some realms aloft. With bent knees we awaited the 
shock of the fall, but when it came it proved infinitely 
more violent than we had anticipated. We had not 
reckoned indeed upon a boisterous gale of wind raging 
for several days past upon the Glamorganshire coast. 
But as we swooped downwards a sudden wild gust, sweep- 
ing from between the hills, caught our crippled craft, 
and sported with it in rudest horse-play. First it hurled 
us to earth with a crash that strained our groaning wicker 
basket in every twig and broke my right arm above the 
wrist. Next it dashed us, all sideways, in maddest steeple- 
chase across the sloping gully in which we fell, our 
grapnel bounding impotently and furrowing long tracks 
in the grass behind. An eight-stranded barbed -wire 
fence was our first obstacle ahead, and a murderous one 
it looked. " Duck down in the basket ! " cried Mr. 
Spencer, and we ducked low as the wires snapped and 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

coiled about our shoulders. But one strand went over 
the top of the car, and I heard my father cry : " I am 
badly torn in the leg ! " Of course I promptly pictured 
him as bleeding to death, but there was no time to in- 
vestigate the damage, for the next instant, with a crash 
and lashing of leafless branches, we were in the top of a 
weather-beaten oak tree, and the moment later we had 
carried the whole top away in our rigging and were rolling 
with the big torn branches among gorse bushes in the 
next field. The silk was flapping and tearing in the gale 
with a noise like thunder, but in the root of the splintered 
oak the anchor held, and our course was stayed. 

Soon in the distance came the sound of excited voices, 
calling to each other, but in an unknown tongue, and a 
little group of dark-eyed men came panting up, but 
halted at a respectable distance from the struggling, toss- 
ing monster. " Come and help us ! " shouted my father ; 
then as they still did not move : " Come and help, you 
fools ! Don't stand gaping there ! " But never before 
in the memory of man had so strange an object fallen 
from a cloudy sky on the outskirts of the town of Neath, 
and for a few moments longer the cautious Welshmen 
refused to approach. The hurried arrival of the land- 
owner and neighbouring residents, however, soon inspired 
them with confidence, and never surely was a more hos- 
pitable welcome accorded to wayworn travellers. It was 
half-past two when we stepped at length from our basket 
world upon terra firma, after what Mr. Spencer declared 
was the roughest landing of all his long experience. Our 
voyage then had lasted for ten hours, and terminated but a 
mile and a half from the sea, towards which we were di- 
rectly heading when we fell. Five minutes more, therefore, 
would have seen us over the Atlantic, wildly rough, so 
we learned, at the time. So long and perilous a voyage 




See page 266 



Page 269 

A Perilous Voyage 

constituted an undoubted record for ballooning in the 
British Islands, for danger and for length of time aloft. 
Early next morning a happy, but utterly disreputable- 
looking, pair presented themselves proudly at Printing 
House Square ; the writer with bandaged arm in sling, 
Bacon in borrowed hat and borrowed trousers his own 
nether garments were torn completely to rags the back 
of his coat one plaster of mud which he absolutely refused 
to have brushed away. I think the editorial staff were 
a little impressed with our appearance; certainly the 
interview was gratifying and flattering. Out in the 
streets our exploit was already on posters and headlines, 
passers identified us, policemen grinned recognition. 
For days the papers were full of the adventure, and, Silas 
Wegg like, the " Globe " dropped into poetry and perpe- 
trated a verse described as the composition of " a humble 
Cockney acquaintance": 

" I'm thinkin' no rasher excursion's been tiken' 
Than that Meteor hunt by balloon of old Eicon. 
As it dived towards the earth, getting nigher an' nigher, 
I reckon he thought, ' 'Ere's the fat in the fire ! ' 
And when he got chucked, an' lay battered an' shiken, 
I bet that he felt just a bit afride Eicon ! " 




THE ensuing winter brought Bacon many lecture 
engagements from all over the country. As a 
popular lecturer he was scoring a big success. His 
natural eloquence, his power of lucid explanation, his 
fine voice and fascinating personality, combined with 
the novelty and adventurous nature of his subject and 
the unique interest of his illustrations to render him 
extremely popular upon the platform. For himself 
lecturing was a real delight, both for its own sake and 
because it brought him many delightful acquaintances, 
and not a few close friends, in all parts of the kingdom. 
With the spring of 1900 came fresh occupations and dis- 

On the 28th of May was to take place another Total 
Solar Eclipse, visible this time in Spain, Portugal, and 
Northern Africa, and also along a narrow track crossing 
certain of the Southern States of America. The British 
Astronomical Association was again rising to the occasion, 
and organizing expeditions of its members, of whom the 
greater majority naturally preferred to observe the 
eclipse at the nearer stations of Spain or Algiers. Some 
few there were, however, ourselves among the number, 
who elected to cross the Atlantic ; and accordingly to 
Bacon again fell the task of conducting a party who had 


The American Eclipse 

the honour to form, in fact, the only English Eclipse 
Expedition to America. The task of arranging for his 
followers proved an easier one than in the case of the 
Indian Eclipse, partly because the distance was so much 
less, but more because of the extreme friendliness and 
hospitality of American officials and astronomers. These 
gentlemen seemed to vie with each other in deeds of 
kindness and offers of assistance to the little English 
party coming in their midst, and many letters of intro- 
duction opened the doors to delightful acquaintances 
in the American scientific world. Bacon had only one 
child to accompany him this time, for by now his son 
was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge. 
Among other members of his party were Mr. Nevil Maske- 
lyne and his wife, the former bringing with him the 
famous animatograph, much improved in the interval, 
to which he was determined, this time, that no mishap 
should occur. It seemed, however, as if the stars in 
their courses fought against that unlucky machine, for 
on arrival in New York it was discovered that, through 
the failure of a carrier, the box of apparatus had never 
been put on board ! 

Fortunately on this occasion the mischief proved not 
irremediable; the essential part of the machinery was 
not in the box but in Mr. Maskelyne's private luggage, 
and therefore still to hand. New York was able to supply 
the necessary lenses, etc., and there was yet time, before 
the eclipse, for Mr. Maskelyne, though only with intense 
and unremitting labour, to rig up a stand and other ap- 
purtenances which, though only makeshift, were sufficient 
for his purpose. 

The outward voyage on the Atlantic Transport's then 
new boat the " Minneapolis " had proved a delightful 
one, and once again a letter, in diary form, from Bacon 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

to the Secretary of the Guildhall Club is at hand to de- 
scribe it : 

Minneapolis,' Sat., May 12. 


" We are having our usual luck dry, bright wea- 
ther ; smooth, oily seas ; long, slow rollers ; our one grief 
the lack of news. No papers reached ship ere we left 
Tilbury, but Archie Maskelyne stood among the crowd 
on the dock with a * Daily Mail.' We threw him a rope 
and got it on board, the only copy ! * Nevil Maskelyne and 
self are scheming special experiments, during his holiday, 
with wireless telegraphy, with which he has made great 
progress. A balloon, and perhaps more than one, will come 
into it, but further details must develop. The ' Chief ' 
is going to fit up a vice, bench, etc., on the cattle deck, 
now empty, for N. Maskelyne to complete work on his 
instrument, now much improved. 

" Monday. 

" Still the same ideal passage. Our ship scorns 
all lesser waves and winds, and well she may, being, I 
learn, the third largest afloat in the world ! Her engine- 
room, which we have thoroughly explored, recalls 
Woolwich Arsenal. Greater comfort, luxury, and good 
discipline throughout cannot exist anywhere. We find 
ourselves regarded as quite a distinguished party on 
board, and nearly every one we talk to has read all about 
the ' Leonid ' balloon ascent from Newbury. 

" Tuesday. 

" A rough wet day at last, with big waves, but our 
boat behaves splendidly, and has made its record run 

* Excitement as to the fate of beleaguered Mafeking, the news of 
whose relief greeted our arrival at New York, explains this craving 
for news. 


The American Eclipse 

of 388 miles. We have learned a little of North Caro- 
lina (our destination) from a fellow-passenger. Puff- 
adders and rattlesnakes abound, the country is wild, with 
boundless pine forests, and if we are lucky we shall get 
the natives to build us a birch-bark hut. This should 
help out the photography. 

" Wednesday. 

"Thick fog and intensely cold. Off the banks of 
Newfoundland, and icebergs thought to be about. Going 
half -speed with hooter every three minutes. Fine acous- 
tical effects, but monotonous ! 

" Thursday. 

" Colder yet, but bright and fresh, with a fine wild 
sea. None of us have been the least ill on the voyage, 
which we expect to end to-morrow night. 

" Friday. 

" Fogs are putting us back again, and we can't 
get in at least before to-morrow morning, and may miss 
the Cunard mail home. Writing will be somewhat dim- 
cult in future, but I will try and send some tidings in 
another week. Sharks are round us, and one bit off our 
running log yesterday. Remember us to all. 
" Yours very sincerely, 


Arrived at New York, Bacon fell of course, as did in- 
deed the whole party, into the clutches of the American 
reporter, flash-light camera and all, and gained a little 
insight into the unique methods of the " yellow " jour- 
nalist. Every other person asked him how he liked New 
York, but he had no time there sufficient to form an un- 
biased opinion, for it was necessary to push on with all 
speed to our destination, Wadesborough, in North Caro- 
lina, whither we journeyed almost immediately ; pausing, 
s 273 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

however, a few hours at Washing ton, for Bacon to examine 
the far-famed acoustic properties of a hall in the huge 
marble Capitol. Concerning the celebrated echo there 
Bacon writes later : 

" I have spent a long morning in this hall studying 
the matter critically, and having obtained due permission 
have photographed the various groups of visitors while 
being placed in chosen position by the guides, and by 
them put through ' the show.' This is a regular perform- 
ance, and well rehearsed, but scarcely scientific. The 
stations on the floor, marked out with such strict exact- 
ness, are the apparent secrets of the professional showman, 
and are invested with an air of mystery, which, however, is 
practically dispelled when you and a competent colleague 
experiment on your own account. Moreover when the 
guide retreats to a distance to whisper, you may observe, 
on approaching him with due caution, that his whisper 
is decidedly of the ' stage ' sort, and calculated to carry 
with great distinctness, which it undoubtedly does. The 
chief acoustic peculiarity of the chamber is clearly due 
to the fact that the roof, which is partly domed, is not 
symmetrical with the floor, so that much complex rever- 
beration is the consequence." 

Our stay in New York, short though it had been, was 
enough to emphasize the contrast between that intensely 
up-to-date city and the quaint little Southern township 
where the next happy week was passed. It was the com- 
ment of an American lady, visiting Wadesborough for 
the first time, that it seemed like a page out of " Martin 
Chuzzlewit," only it was an altogether delightful page, 
with all the disagreeable people left out, and scores more 
charming ones put in. Far from the rush and roar of 


The American Eclipse 

the great cities, buried amid cotton plantations and the 
endless pine forests of the south, the little townlet of about 
1000 inhabitants, the greater part blacks, descendants 
of the former slaves, pursued its peaceful sleepy existence, 
nor fretted itself unduly about the minor worries of life. 
" Take it easy " should surely have been the borough 
motto inscribed upon the white front of the Court House, 
the one substantial building of the place, on whose out- 
side steps, smoking in the sun, would sit for hours the 
Mayor and the portly ' Judge,' local magnate of the dis- 
trict. It is unusual in England to encounter the chief 
magistrates of a town sitting on the Town Hall steps, 
but in Wadesborough it was quite de regie ; for did not 
the shopkeepers pass their days lolling on much-tilted 
cane-bottom chairs on the pavement chewing the 
while awaiting their leisurely customers ; the innkeepers 
sit in the road outside their hotels ; the editor, in shirt- 
sleeves, outside his office ; and even the minister pass the 
time before his congregation arrived seated on the steps 
of his little church ? 

Nevertheless, sleepy and behind the times in many 
respects as they undoubtedly were, in one point at least 
the townsfolk of Wadesborough were immensely ahead 
of them. We had heard much previously, of course, of 
the hospitality of the Southern States, but not enough 
to prepare us for what was coming ; since we found that 
our little Southern town attached quite a new interpre- 
tation to the word, a broadening, heightening, and deep- 
ening of its signification out of all recognition. Fitting 
terms indeed are lacking adequately to express the 
warmth of the welcome extended to us, the entertain- 
ments, parties, and picnics lavished upon us, the countless 
acts of kindness and assistance rendered us, even to the 
length of two carriages and pairs (one of black, and one 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

of "calico," i.e. piebald steeds) waiting all day long 
outside our hotel to drive us, gratis, to and from the 
camp or whither we listed. 

|| Nor was it only the townsfolk who thus overwhelmed 
us with favours. Careless of the proverb concerning the 
wisdom of trusting too many eggs to one basket, there 
had congregated at Wadesborough the eclipse expeditions 
of all the great American universities and observatories, 
and the town was packed with the astronomical leaders 
of a continent. From Yerkes Observatory came Pro- 
fessors Hale, Barnard, and Ritchey ; from Princeton, 
Professor Young ; from the Smithsonian Institute, Wash- 
ington, Professor Langley each with a large and scarcely 
less distinguished following which, with lady astronomers 
from Vassar, and many other scientific celebrities, formed 
a shining galaxy of intellect unrivalled in the annals of 
shadow-seeking. The instrumental outfit of this great 
gathering was in proportion to its importance, covering 
acres of ground, and constituting by far the most im- 
portant and valuable collection of astronomical apparatus 
ever brought together in one place to observe an eclipse. 
Amid such a concourse Bacon was indeed in his element, 
and never for him did days pass more quickly and 
happily. The astronomers had caught the infection of the 
Wadesborough open-hear tedness, and lavished unending 
kindness upon the English party ; chief among them the 
veteran Professor Young most charming and courtly 
of scientists who took us under his special protection, 
shared with us his camping ground and guard, and allowed 
us to use his elaborate and specially erected observatory 
and dark room. On the roof of this building, by the 
way, we found flying, beside the Stars and Stripes, a 
silken Union Jack, procured at much trouble in our 
especial honour. 



Page 277 

The American Eclipse 

Too much space has already been devoted to descrip- 
tions of eclipses to allow of more than the brief statement 
now that, on the momentous day itself, weather con- 
ditions were perfect, and the spectacle proved no less 
gloriously impressive than before. Bacon's own de- 
scription (he was Special Correspondent for "The Times ") 
may be looked for elsewhere. Suffice it to say the ob- 
servations were all (or almost all) successful. Valuable 
photographs were taken, and Mr. Maskelyne defeated 
Fate by securing a fine animatograph picture (the first 
ever produced) of the whole length of totality. Bacon 
and his expedition were triumphantly happy, nor did 
their astronomical treats finish with the striking of the 
camp at Wadesborough. By most hospitable invitation 
of its chiefs the whole party were enabled to visit the 
great Yerkes Observatory on Lake Geneva, 75 miles 
distant from Chicago, where they became the personal 
guests of Professor Barnard and his charming English 
wife, the Bacons and Maskelynes actually staying in 
their delightful house. 

It may be doubted whether the few days here spent 
were not the cream of the whole expedition. The vast 
observatory, complete in every detail of library, labora- 
tories, dark rooms and workshops, containing within its 
go-ft. dome the giant 40-in. refractor which is the 
greatest telescope of the world even as the whole build- 
ing is the finest observatory was the princely gift of 
Mr. Chas. T. Yerkes to the University of Chicago. It 
forms, surely, the finest single contribution of wealth to 
science ever offered. It was a great privilege indeed to 
be enabled to visit it, a greater privilege still to be allowed, 
as we were, for a whole hour and a half, to explore the 
wonders of the heavens revealed as never before 
through the mighty eye of the great refractor. Greatest 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

privilege of all to be the guests of the famous discoverer 
of the fifth satellite of Jupiter, of comets, and other 
celestial marvels past enumeration, the most distinguished, 
but withal the most modest, simple-minded, kind-hearted 
and delightful of astronomers, American or otherwise 
Professor Barnard. 

A short stay in Canada, and a visit to the Falls of 
Niagara, where Bacon of course explored the Cave of 
the Winds, completed our American travels ; and on 
the i6th of June the party sailed for Liverpool from 
Montreal, on the Allan Liner " Parisian." It was on the 
voyage home that Bacon made the acquaintance of that 
distinguished naval officer, Admiral Sir Edmund Fre- 
mantle, G.C.B., and discovered that despite the varied 
and exciting experiences afloat and ashore, in war time 
and in peace, " in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the 
sea," of a long and active life, he yet hankered after a 
fresh achievement and desired to embark, in a new craft, 
on the only ocean he had not yet explored the ocean 
of air. In other words, he was keen to go a balloon 
voyage. He readily fell in with Bacon's proposal that he 
should form one of the aeronautical party in the next 
scientific ascent that summer ; and the sequel provided 
the gallant sailor with an adventure of quite novel in- 
terest even to him. 

The ascent was from the Newbury gas-works on a July 
day when heavy storm-packs lay banked in frowning 
masses on the horizon, and sudden squalls, coming ap- 
parently from nowhere, from time to time hid the sky. 
The start was delayed hour after hour in hopes of better 
weather, and a number of pilot balloons were sent up in 
advance to test the doubtful trend of upper currents. 
These as they vanished into distance disclosed the fact 
that aloft two fast currents, blowing one to the west the 



The American Eclipse 

other to the north-west, struggled together in the air for 
mastery, and formed eddies where they mingled. 

It is common in summer-time for storms to cease sud- 
denly towards evening, even though they may return 
again at night, and presently, the clouds clearing, the 
eager party cut their moorings, and embarked into the 
sky, confident that in so doing they ran small risk of a 
drenching, since naturally any cloud arising might be 
expected to follow with the same wind on which they 
had already a good start. All the same, the friends they 
left behind them, watching the great balloon, like a drop 
in the air, slowly recede from sight and melt into the 
sky, presently perceived, with no little alarm, a frowning, 
ominous thunder-pack, dark and closely compacted, rise 
against the wind full in the path of the aeronauts, whom 
they now anticipated would beat a hasty retreat from so 
perilous a position and effect a forced descent. To their 
astonishment and concern, however, the balloon con- 
tinued its course, and was slowly enveloped in the ap- 
proaching storm, clearly a very heavy one, whose distant 
artillery could even then be heard in faint but ever- 
increasing rumblings. 

Possibly the four in the balloon (young Bacon was of 
the party) were too much occupied with their experi- 
ments and the exhilaration engendered by their situation, 
to pay much attention to their surroundings. Certainly 
they were not in the best position to observe the sky, 
hidden as it was by the great mass of the silk, drawn 
closer over the car than usual by the shrinking of the 
cordage in a recent shower. The pace was rapid, and 
the Kennet Valley, green and beautiful, slipped quickly 
by. Yet presently as they gazed down upon the fertile 
pastures they saw the wide view grow indistinct, veiled 
with a blue-grey mist that deepened and broadened, 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

apparently the while creeping ahead of them, though in 
reality in process of formation by the settling down of a 
colder upper air. Presently upon the silk aloft came the 
rattle of hailstones, and looking ahead they saw the 
sky already blotted out by a dense black pall, whose 
advancing fringe had formed about them with great 
suddenness, and had thus hidden until now the depths 
of the vast threatening masses piling around. 

Then almost before the situation had dawned upon 
them there came a wild shriek in the air above, and a 
minute later they were swallowed up in a pitiless on- 
slaught of hail, whipping their faces and battering down 
on the seams of the balloon with furious patter. An ice- 
cold down-draught came with the hail, and a wild con- 
flict of opposing currents raged round them. Then the 
thunder broke, the lightning flashed on one side and 
another, as batteries opening in quick succession on a 
beleaguered city, while the answering crashes, not long 
prolonged as on earth but smarter and sharper, followed 
each other from all over the sky with the briefest inter- 

It is an interesting question, frequently discussed by 
meteorologists and aeronauts alike, whether a free balloon 
aloft in a thunderstorm can really be struck by lightning.* 
From its position it has every likelihood of entering the 
" path of least resistance " and coming in the direct line 
of the flashes. On the other hand, it has no connection 
with earth, and silk is a non-conductor. It is a nice point, 
and one that the scientific world would gladly see settled ; 
but Bacon unhesitatingly avowed afterwards that the 
aeronautical party on this particular occasion were of 

* The late deplorable accident on the Continent, when a military balloon 
was struck by lightning, with fatal results, is not a fair answer to this 
question, since, I understand, the balloon bore a quite unusual amount 
of metal. 


The American Eclipse 

opinion that it was an experiment that might well be 
postponed for another occasion. For the moment the 
thought of the 50,000 cubic feet of gas above them, in close 
proximity to the electric fires, distracted their attention, 
and militated against close scientific observation. In 
fact they had but one desire, and that was to descend 
with all speed. But this proved at the moment the very 
thing they were unable to attempt. Their course had 
now brought them to the edge of Savernake Forest, 
whose whole long length of waving tree- tops now stretched 
beneath them in impenetrable phalanx. For a few minutes 
more long and anxious minutes they proved in truth 
they were perforce detained aloft in the very heart of the 
storm, until a small clearing appeared among the trees, 
to drop in whose narrow bounds called forth the aero- 
naut's best skill and judgment. Rustic harvesters re- 
ceived them heartily, startled for once a little from their 
habitual stolidity. For from the ground the peril of the 
party had appeared much greater than from aloft. 
Lightning had simply surrounded the balloon, which 
appeared as if framed in fire, and every moment the 
spectators had expected to behold its utter destruction. 
As a matter of fact the storm proved one of the worst for 
years in that neighbourhood, brooding for five hours over 
Devizes, spreading damage right and left, one house being 
struck and burned to the ground not far from where the 
balloon fell, and two soldiers killed on Salisbury Plain, 
just over the near ridge of hills. 

Admiral Fremantle accompanied Bacon on another 
balloon voyage some six weeks later. The occasion was 
the meeting of the British Association at Bradford, and 
the ascent was made from Lister Park. The special pur- 
pose in view was a further demonstration of the wire- 
less telegraphy trials inaugurated at Newbury a year 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

before. Mr. Nevil Maskelyne had charge of the trans- 
mitting instrument on the ground, and constant com- 
munication was continued with the balloon during its 
whole journey, which terminated near Sheffield. When 
three or four miles distant in the sky the aeronauts 
" wirelessly " exploded a mine in the grounds whence they 
had started. 

This year also brought Bacon another " storm " ex- 
perience, of a somewhat different but no less exciting 
nature. Towards the end of November always a 
favourite month for aeronautical enterprise an inter- 
national experiment for meteorological purposes, in- 
volving the simultaneous ascent of many balloons from 
different great cities, was organized upon the Continent. 
This was still before the days when ballooning in this 
country had become a fashionable pastime, and it was 
only through the single-handed efforts of that well-known 
enthusiast, Mr. Patrick Y. Alexander, that England could 
furnish one properly equipped balloon, and so participate 
in the proceedings. The post of scientific observer for 
this voyage was offered to Bacon, who gladly accepted 
it. The ascent was from the Crystal Palace, and the 
morning broke foul and stormy. Conditions indeed were 
entirely unfavourable from an aeronautical point of view, 
but under the special circumstances it was evident the 
ascent must be made at whatever hazards. 

Hour after hour the party waited, hoping for an im- 
provement in the weather, the balloon but partially 
filled and moored close down to the earth with many 
restraining bags of ballast. The wind, however, con- 
tinued to blow gustily with unabated violence, and in 
addition heavy clouds, blowing up blacker and blacker, 
soon overspread the sky with inky grey, across which 
ominous scud blew low and fast. 



The American Eclipse 

The currents were setting towards high elms to east- 
ward of the filling ground, and the balloon, when inflated, 
had to be dragged as far as possible in the opposite direc- 
tion in order to avoid fouling them. The final prepara- 
tions and affixing of the car were effected with much 
difficulty ; the monster, maddened by the gusts, surged 
and tore at her moorings, men at the ropes were swept 
off their legs, until at length the crowd lent their assistance 
and hung on to the cordage, as many as could catch on 
at a time, and even then were dragged hither and thither 
about the ground. Coolness and skill triumphed, how- 
ever, and, taking advantage of a lucky moment, the balloon 
was released, and with but a slight brush through the 
topmost branches of the elms attained the upper air. 

Here, of course, in the free sky, travelling with the 
wind, she was safe enough for the time but what a wind 
it proved ! Describing this voyage later, Bacon writes : 
" We were chiefly concerned that day in taking the read- 
ings of our instruments, and just after making the first 
entries and noting it was only five minutes from the start, 
my eye caught far down the outline of a domed building 
and enclosure which was strangely familiar. What place 
was it so close to the Crystal Palace grounds that lay 
below ? I looked again, and it was no longer below but 
already in our wake and fast receding ; and then the truth 
flashed upon me. We were even at this time far from 
the neighbourhood of the Palace, and that was Greenwich 
Observatory, five miles from the great glass roofs and 
towers already far in the distance, showing we were flying 
at the startling speed of sixty miles an hour." 

On the wings of this furious gale they sped, over the 
suburbs, over the river, out over Essex in the direction 
of Chelmsford. Above the lower scud it was bitterly 
cold, and the thermometer sank below freezing-point. 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

It was obvious that at their present wild rate the voyage 
must prove a short one, and ere an hour was past a creamy 
line in the distance showed they were already nearing the 
coast of Essex. It would be unwise to approach that 
line too nearly, since the roughest of landings, entailing 
probably a long dragging across country, was inevitably 
before them. The balloon was accordingly brought low, 
the long trail-rope dropped to fullest extent, and a suitable 
landing-place awaited. 

Open ploughed fields were beneath, and in one of these 
the car came slanting down with a crash, only instantly 
to rebound again and clear a copse before she once more 
touched earth. This time the impact was harder, and 
there followed a few moments of ugly dragging, the heavy 
anchor trailing useless behind, leaping from field to field ; 
the battered aeronauts, gasping with each fresh shock, 
holding on with might and main to the ropes and breath- 
lessly awaiting developments. Fortunately this furious 
chase was not of long continuance : " Ere long we found 
ourselves plunging into a couple of stout young trees, 
a holly and an oak, growing in a thick hedgerow close 
together. We charged those trees literally with the speed 
of an express train. The holly, I recollect, was prickly ; 
the oak was tough, very tough yet bough after bough 
gave way as the gale, catching the emptying balloon, 
pulled harder and harder, until at last the car stove in 
and then turned upside down among the boughs, spilling 
us into the quickset hedge below, from which we were 
glad enough to emerge little the worse save for a few 

The end of this year saw the publication of Bacon's 
first book, "By Land and Sky," on which he had been 
engaged the greater part of the summer. Early in 1900 
Mr. William Canton, at that time sub-editor of the " Con- 




Page 284 

The American Eclipse 

temporary Review" (to which Bacon had often con- 
tributed), and Manager for Messrs. Isbister and Co., 
wrote suggesting to my father that his unique experiences 
and scientific investigations might well form the contents 
of an interesting volume. Bacon, who had not until then 
aspired to authorship, was immediately taken with the 
idea. Writing, in facile, lucid style, came easy enough 
to him. To recall his adventures was to live again many 
delightful hours. He enjoyed every moment of his task, 
from the commencement to the final correcting of the 
proof-sheets, and his pleasure culminated on the day 
when his new-born child lay before him, fresh from the 
press, in all its glory of red cloth and gold lettering. The 
book dedicated, by the way, to Sir Edmund Fremantle 
was very favourably received by the critics. The comment 
of the "Literary World" reads almost prophetic : " Mr. 
Bacon writes with almost contagious enthusiasm, and so 
charmingly describes the fascinations of ballooning that 
unless millionaires have hearts of stone or horrible 
thought ! never read books like ' By Land and Sky,' some 
man of redundant wealth will surely establish an Institute 
of Ballooning and finance the enterprise of budding aero- 
nauts." In view of recent events this sentence reads 
curiously. It may not have fallen to " Land and Sky " 
to effect that revolution in public taste which has since 
made ballooning the sport of the wealthy, and flying the 
aim of the inventor thirsting for great awards. Never- 
theless, it was Bacon who, in this country at least, set the 
fashion, raised aeronautics from its fallen state, pointed 
the course years ahead of everybody else, and himself 
led the way. 




THE lecture season of 1900-1 led Bacon far afield, 
to Scotland, Ireland and Wales. He had the usual 
experiences that attend the popular lecturer, some amus- 
ing, some trying. Once, realistically describing a balloon 
inflation, he gave the aeronaut's order, " Turn on the 
gas ! " with so much effect that the hall-keeper took 
it to himself, and the room was immediately flooded with 
light, to the astonishment of audience and lecturer. 
Another time, stepping quickly backwards on a high and 
improperly protected platform, he fell down behind, and 
suddenly disappeared completely from view of his startled 
and much alarmed hearers. Minor discomforts of long 
day and night winter j ourneys fog-delayed trains, lanterns 
that refuse to shine, lanternists who refuse to listen, 
chairmen who refuse to cease, and the like of course befell 
him, as they do all frequenters of the platform. But with 
them he shared to the full the joy of having a' vast audi- 
ence hang upon his words, of feeling the subtle sympathy 
which links the speaker, moment by moment, to the 
hearers whose minds he grips, of holding thousands as it 
were in the hollow of his hand and playing upon them 
as upon an instrument. All descriptions of audiences 
fell to his lot : cultured, critical audiences in the famous 
old established institutions of London, Edinburgh and 


Acoustic Mysteries 

the northern towns ; dock labourers of Liverpool sitting 
with their caps on, sailors on men-of-war, soldiers in 
garrison towns ; fashionable afternoon audiences too re- 
fined for anything but the gentlest murmur of approba- 
tion ; vociferous Welsh miners, who roared the roof off ; 
stolid rustics, hearty schoolboys, keen mechanics he 
knew and loved them all. Pleasantest of all experiences, 
perhaps, was the hospitality and kindness lavished upon 
him in all quarters and from every class, the delightful 
acquaintances made, the lasting friendships cemented, 
the fresh ideas exchanged. No wonder Bacon loved his 
lecturing and looked forward to it from one winter to the 

This winter he read papers on his work before the 
Society of Arts, the Royal Astronomical Society, the 
Aeronautical Society, etc., and exhibited his balloon 
photographs of which he had now a quite unique col- 
lection before the Royal Photographic Society and the 
Camera Club. After his winter's work he took a brief 
holiday to the Scilly Isles, and here he turned his leisure 
to good account by experiments on a new line. During 
his last visit to this breezy archipelago he had occupied 
himself chiefly with scientific kite-flying of late years a 
very favourite and instructive occupation, from which 
he had gleaned much information concerning the minor 
currents of the air. This time he gave his attention 
to a simple apparatus of his own devising for test- 
ing the amount of matter in extremely fine division 
in suspension in the atmosphere. This work he 
continued, in all sorts of different places, throughout 
the year, and some of his results were sufficiently 

As might be expected, the breeze blowing straight from 
the Atlantic on to the granite rocks of St. Mary's, Scilly, 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

contained the minimum amount of impurities, and yet, 
curiously enough, a sample secured on another side of the 
same island proved the most dust-impregnated of Bacon's 
whole series. A fresh wind was blowing directly off St. 
Agnes an islet only a mile across and more than a mile 
distant but it was at the season of the spring flowers, 
and the pollen off the millions of blooms with which the 
tiny land was carpeted loaded the air in such quantity as 
actually to stain the spirit in the test bottle that formed 
part of the apparatus. The same experiment trans- 
ferred to London showed that from the height of the top 
of Tower Bridge a gentle west wind following the stream 
was very dust-free. Air collected on the top of a 'bus in 
Highbury was most palpably laden with particles from 
off the broad thoroughfare. This was what might have 
been expected, though it is more curious that air tested 
from a balloon flying 2000 feet over Kingston-on-Thames 
should have proved almost equally impure, the fragments 
in this case too being of relatively large size, resembling 
small shreds of straw or chaff, which were fluttering about 
like thistledown, which penetrates sometimes to very 
lofty regions. Most unexpected of all was the discovery 
that the air of Aldersgate Street Station on the Metro- 
politan the most choking and stifling of stations in 
the sulphurous days of yore proved on examination to 
be almost the freest from matter in suspension that Bacon 
had ever tested. The simple explanation doubtless was 
that the volumes of steam from the passing trains served 
to entrap and cleanse out the dust, but the Press affected 
to find something humorous in Bacon's statement. The 
poetical " Globe " (I think it was) again produced an 
effusion (which my father much appreciated at the time) 
under title " Our Health Resort," which, after urging all 
invalids to " come with me to Aldersgate and tour along 


Acoustic Mysteries 

the c Met, 5 " continued, as I trust I may be pardoned for 
quoting : 

There you find the purest air in all our great Metropolis : 
Though you mightn't think it, yet the atmosphere is sweet. 
If your brain is reeling, and your reason like to topple is, 
Half an hour of Aldersgate will put you on your feet. 
There you never see the railway porter lounging wearily, 
" Matter in suspension " there is practically nil t 
Smith's young representative is singing loud and cheerily : 
No one down at Aldersgate is ever feeling ill. 

Talk of breezy Brighton and of far away Davozes is 
Idle, silly chatter, and essentially unsound. 
Aye, the only method now to cure tuberculosis is 
Just to take an airing on the London underground. 
Even Christian Scientists could do no greater miracle ; 
Sweet and balmy Aldersgate was never known to fail. 
Put aside all thought of trust in remedies empirical 
Come and buy a " season " on the subterranean rail ! 

Other experimental work of 1901 was partly suggested 
by the national event of the year. Queen Victoria died 
in January, and on February the ist there boomed out 
from Spithead the minute guns of a mighty fleet in such 
thunderous volume as only a naval engagement or the 
obsequies of a great sovereign can call forth. Bacon, 
mindful of the anomalous hearing of the noise of great 
guns in times of battle in the past history is full of such 
instances and knowing that half England on this occa- 
sion would keep watch and record of the fact, took 
special measures to investigate the carrying of the sound 
to all quarters of the south of England. The result 
proved not less striking than of old. The windows of 
Sutton and Richmond Hill rattled to the shock, as did 
also those of Tunbridge Wells and Ashford, in Kent. As 
far away as Cambridge and Peterborough the firing was 
unmistakably detected. Yet in the immediate neigh- 
bourhood that is to say in places distant but from ten 
T 289 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

to forty miles of Spithead the guns were ct "almost or 
quite inaudible ! " 

Clearly here was scope for much investigation, and 
through the coming summer Bacon made many experi- 
ments bearing on the subject of the hearing of loud noises 
across wide stretches of country. The cotton powder 
fog-signals aforementioned, carried aloft by powerful 
rockets and exploded when high in air, made as much noise 
as it was possible or advisable (!) for him to produce. 
He generally fired them in the still hours of evening or 
night, when their effect could be heard to best advantage, 
and had it not been that he lived in a remote and open 
part of the world, and that his vagaries were well known 
and condoned with in the neighbourhood, there might 
have been complaints made of the manner in which he 
disturbed the peace of the countryside. As it was, his 
acoustic efforts sometimes produced untoward results. 
One night's experience proved too much for the nerves 
of a friend's aged pony. The first rocket, bursting in 
wild uproar in the sky, startled him from his accustomed 
calm, the second set him trembling, with back-set ears 
and quivering flanks, the third started him galloping 
madly round his narrow paddock. Round and round 
he went, furiously and wildly, and though the firing now 
ceased it seemed still to echo in his frenzied brain, for he 
never abated for a moment in his mad career. His 
owner was wakened by the sound of charging hoofs, and 
at intervals during the night he woke again, always to 
hear the rhythmic beat of that endless chase still going on. 
Only with daylight did the pony regain possession of his 
nerves, when he had to be parted with as broken- winded ! 
On another occasion the rockets were fired by special 
permission of Lord Carnarvon from the summit of 
Beacon Hill, a lofty point of the Hampshire range. It 


Acoustic Mysteries 

seemed as if in so exposed and desolate a spot no damage 
could possibly ensue, but on the slopes of the hill was a 
large sheepfold from among whose hundreds of woolly 
occupants the shepherd had with great care chosen 
out the twenty best to be taken to the local sheep-fair 
on the morrow. This select party were penned in a corner 
by themselves, but, alas, the events of the night proved 
too many for them, and the disgusted shepherd found next 
morning that they had all leapt the hurdles and mixed 
themselves up again hopelessly with the crowd. His feel- 
ings (and language) are better imagined than described. 

One August night of this summer Bacon instructed 
volunteers from the Guildhall Club to fire more rockets 
from Beacon Hill, while he and two assistants repaired 
in the little motor to the other Beacon Hill near Ames- 
bury, highest point of Salisbury Plain, eighteen miles 
W.S.W. as the crow flies. Detonating rockets were fired 
from both stations at prearranged times, their flashes 
being seen in the sky, but not even with the paraboloid 
" ears " could a suspicion of a sound be heard from either 
station, though the breeze was but light at the time. 
The ears were of use in another way, however. The Wilt- 
shire Beacon Hill is in close proximity to Bulford Camp, 
and as Bacon was preparing to fire his own signals he 
was astonished to see another, much lesser rocket, climb 
feebly into the night, somewhere below the hill, followed 
by the mild popping of Roman candle stars. Was it 
some " Tommy " from the camp, who had chosen this 
occasion for a firework display ? No voices could be 
detected, but on turning the big paraboloid in the direc- 
tion of the firing the emphatic words, " Get out of the 

way, d you ! " clearly distinguished, left no doubt 

that a British officer was engaged in an exhibition of his 
own pyrotechnic efforts. The rest of the events of this 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

night, when the little motor-car got off the track in the 
darkness and was lost, hopelessly, at midnight, in the 
wilds of Salisbury Plain, proved somewhat interesting 
at the time. Here it may suffice to record as a curious 
fact that, the same acoustic experiment being repeated 
shortly afterwards, a Captain of Royal Artillery, standing 
on the Wiltshire Beacon, heard without difficulty the 
signals from the Hampshire Beacon, in spite of a stiff 
breeze blowing at right angles to the line joining the 
two stations. 

As a corollary to these tests of the travel of sound 
through air arose experiments as to the audibility of 
signals made and received beneath the surface of water. 
The importance, from a utilitarian point of view, of 
knowledge on this point is obvious, when one considers 
how the noise of wind and wave militates against the 
hearing of warning bells, etc., at sea ; warnings which 
might still, with proper appliances, be received without 
interruption through the medium of the water itself. 
Bacon followed up this interesting side-issue with con- 
siderable thoroughness, and after providing himself with 
carefully thought out apparatus for the purpose, spent 
a week with his son experimenting on the Norfolk Broads, 
After long and careful investigation with bells and so forth, 
the effect was tried, on the last day, of a cotton powder 
detonator, exploded some ten feet below the boat. Acous- 
tically the result was most instructive, but other wholly 
unforeseen results also ensued. Shortly after the ex- 
plosion there rose to the surface of the lake the body of 
a dead fish, followed by another and another, until the 
water was speckled with the white undersides of rising 
corpses. The massacre was too wholesale and extensive 
to be regarded with equanimity, and the experimenters 
beat a hasty and horrified retreat. 


Acoustic Mysteries 

Bacon's most interesting scientific balloon voyages of 
the year were two ascents made, one by day and one by 
night, in August, from the Stamford Bridge Athletic 
Grounds, Fulham. In the first he was accompanied by 
Sir Henry Truman Wood, Secretary of the Society of 
Arts, and the balloon passing directly over the best known 
parts of London (the voyagers exchanged greetings with 
workmen on the roof of Buckingham Palace), and the air 
proving singularly clear and free from haze, photo- 
graphs were secured of the very heart of the great city, 
which eventually turned out to be some of the most in- 
teresting of all Bacon's collection. Careful testings were 
made of the conditions of the upper atmosphere, revealing 
its floating impurities to be mainly of afibrous, or, as Bacon 
described it, a " fluey " nature ; while bombs were fired 
above the housetops, the records of the hearing of which, 
carefully plotted on a map, again revealed the curious 
point that the sound travelled farther at right angles 
to the balloon's course than either up or down the wind. 

The termination of this voyage was marked by a small 
yet laughable incident over which the voyagers chuckled 
for many a long day. Their landing-place was near Wood- 
ford, in Essex, at the back of the Clay bury Lunatic Asy- 
lum, in one of whose fields they actually fell. The staff 
of the establishment proved hospitable, and tea was 
partaken of in the Doctor's apartments. Arrangements 
being then made for the disposal of the balloon, a fly was 
sent for to drive the aeronauts to the nearest station. 
Their departure was from the front of the building, where, 
owing to their novel method of arrival, they had not 
before been seen, and, as they might have expected, a 
somewhat astonished porter stopped them at the lodge. 

; ' Where are you going to ? " commenced the cate- 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

" To the station." 

" And where have you come from ? " 

" From the Asylum. We have been there to tea." 

The porter's face darkened and stiffened. " But I never 
saw you arrive. How did you come ? " 

" Oh, we came in a balloon," was Bacon's innocent and 
airy answer. But it proved altogether the wrong reply, 
for the janitor, very stern by now, remarked that it was 
just what he had expected, that he had heard that tale 
before, and other icy witticisms of a like nature, the 
while the gate remained obstinately closed. Until due 
explanations had cleared the air, and the path, the aero- 
nauts could not but feel that those facetious friends who 
dubbed them " balloonatics " were nearer the mark than 
they supposed. 

In the night balloon voyage of a couple of days later 
Mr. C. W. Wyllie, the well-known artist, occupied a seat 
in the car a fact permanently recorded by a fine black- 
and-white drawing of the star-spangled metropolis, its 
bridges, streets, and buildings outlined in myriad spark- 
ling gems, lying in the stillness of its uneasy slumber as 
an enchanted city of a magician's dream. It was a 
matchless scene indeed over which they passed, revealed 
but to a very few elect, and not less impressive was the 
beauty of the dawn when, seen from an altitude of 5000 
feet, the sun peeped golden above the rose-red banks of 
stratus clouds, while over the fair fields of Kent below, 
the winding ribbon of the Medway, and the pale moat 
which circles the ancient pile of Leeds Castle, the shadows 
of night yet brooded. 

Aeronautical work the following year opened as early 
as the middle of April with a scientific ascent from Wool- 
wich. The hearing of signals over long range of land and 
sky was again the object of research, and on this occasion 


Acoustic Mysteries 

Trinity House and Greenwich Observatory lent assistance. 
Military authorities also displayed their interest, and by 
the kind permission of the officer in command, Col. H. T. S. 
Yates, in whom Bacon was delighted to claim an old school 
friend, partner with him and Lord Francis Douglas in the 
most unauthorized of the pranks at " Pritchett's " forty 
years before, the ascent was made on the parade-ground 
of the Royal Artillery Barracks, and a party of artillery- 
men were told off to give their skilled assistance in the 
preparations. It was unfortunate for certain of the 
experiments contemplated that the day proved misty and 
thick, so that five minutes after the balloon had started 
she was lost sight of entirely in the fog ; but from an 
acoustical point of view the presence of this heavy haze 
was not uninstructive. Through partial rifts in the 
white rolling vapour we, the aeronautical party on this 
occasion Bacon had both his children aloft with him 
caught fleeting glimpses of the docks, the river, and the 
crowded mean streets of East London ; after this, at a 
height of 5000 feet, dense cloud, piled crater-like around 
the balloon, effectually hid everything else from view. 
A dull continuous rumble punctuated with shrill whistles, 
arising from all the railways of the metropolis, formed the 
ceaseless accompaniment, through which broke at times, 
even at the height of a mile, the raucous yells of street 
hawkers and the barking of high- voiced dogs. Sirens 
and steam hooters, of course, were audible, but though 
the city was crossed just at the hour of noon, and care- 
ful watch was kept, no trace of that uproar of clocks and 
bells, so noticeable in the streets, could be detected. 
The tenor bell of Woolwich Church, which, by arrange- 
ment, was rung at the time of the ascent, was also wholly 
inaudible, although a bugle blown from the barrack 
field was heard for a long time after the start. 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

After some interval, occupied by the firing of aerial 
bombs and so forth, the balloon swooped low beneath 
the cloud, and soon the long trail-rope, after skipping 
some telegraph wires, caught itself up in the branches 
of an oak tree and held fast. No amount of pulling 
sufficed to free it, and the very effect of such efforts on 
our part was to bring us to earth, which we touched, 
gently as a feather, in a ploughed field which excited by- 
standers informed us was not far from Hertford. A 
small station was hard by, and a railway porter, more 
active than the yokels who soon surrounded us, climbed 
the tree and unhitched the rope while we were still de- 
liberating on our next action. Our liberation decided 
it. A glance overhead showed the silk still fully inflated ; 
a glance at our watches, that the day was yet young. 
Immediately we scrambled back into the basket and 
commenced to throw out ballast in order to rise 

But the gas of the balloon had become chilled in the 
few minutes we had spent upon the earth, and when all 
the sand, even to the last grain, had been exhausted, we 
still rested, though lightly, on the ground. Whereupon 
Mr. Spencer, hauling out his pocket-knife, cut adrift the 
long heavy trail-rope, and left it coiling like a huge brown 
snake across the field. " Rail it back to London," he 
shouted to the porter below, as, lightened of its weight, 
we sprang upwards into the cloud, and this time, so 
energetically did we rise, shot through it altogether and 
emerged into bright sunshine above. 

Then at last our balloon got a chance of showing what 
she could do. The sunshine was drying her sodden silk 
and expanding the chilled gas, the cloud floor fell lower 
and lower beneath us, and the tell-tale aneroid marked 
off a fresh thousand feet in every five minutes : 13,000, 



Page 256 

Acoustic Mysteries 

14,000, 15,000. " Nearly three miles ! " cried Bacon 
delightedly. " By far the highest I have ever been ! " 

At about 15,000 feet the height of Monte Rosa on 
the mountain, and indeed for some people far lower, 
mountain sickness makes itself very evident to the climber 
exhausted with exertion. We four, squatting at ease in 
the corners of the steady car, felt, or declared we felt, 
no inconvenience. Nevertheless, our faces were greenish- 
white, our ears sang, and another thousand feet would 
surely have had effect upon us. As it was when Mr. 
Spencer suddenly declared he could hear the lowing of 
a cow we were inclined to attribute the statement to a 
little temporary aberration, for we had passed a mile and 
more beyond the range of such gentle noises, and only an 
occasional railway- whistle, faint and far, broke the utter 
silence of the sky. Nevertheless a moment later we all 
heard the same sound, feeble but unmistakable an 
extraordinarily " long shot," an acoustical " freak," 
ascending through one of those " chimney shafts " of 
audibility among the air-currents that every investigator 
sooner or later encounters. 

Another curious fact noted that day was that at about 
10,000 feet high a biting east wind unpleasantly invaded 
the basket. This was remarkable, since aloft, no matter 
the speed of onward motion, no breath of air is ordin- 
arily felt. We were obviously not travelling with this 
easterly breeze, and could only suppose ourselves tem- 
porarily encountering a cross-current. By-and-by our 
balloon began sinking cloudward slowly at first, then 
with ever-increasing velocity, so that presently the ex- 
perienced aeronaut thought fit to call our attention to a 
fact we had previously overlooked. The height we had 
attained had been altogether unusual for an ordinary 
voyage, and a great height is only reached at the expense 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

of much loss of gas, which pours from the open mouth. 
Much loss of gas means a very rapid descent, in this case 
to be further accelerated by the chilling of the dense 
cloud floor below. A rapid descent can only be com- 
bated by the plentiful discharge of ballast, and the use 
of a long trail-rope to break the perilous shock of the fall. 
Our sandbags lay empty of their last grain at our feet, 
and our trail-rope we had left in the field at Hertford 
an hour and a half ago. 

Down we sank and down, fast and faster. Things 
were beginning to grow exciting, but your sky sailor never 
allows himself to become flustered. The balloon was 
promptly " parachuted," that is to say the loose lower 
part of the silk, already flapping ominously over our 
heads, was released, and by the rapid downward motion 
immediately collapsed into the upper portion, forming 
a natural umbrella or parachute. It is this expedient 
which has saved the necks of many aeronauts whose 
balloons have burst in the upper air, but the area of our 
parachute was vastly too small, considering our weight, 
to ensure us an easy landing, and presently, as our speed 
increased and increased, quicker and quicker, we grew 
anxious as to what might lie beneath the masses of the 
cloud floor now surging up dark around us. 

It would be impossible in any way to pick our ground 
or influence our course, so that a river beneath us must 
mean a ducking, a wood a swinging crash into the tree- 
tops, a town worst thought of all the trying of un- 
pleasant conclusions with the chimney-pots. All avail- 
able articles, such as empty sandbags, had already gone 
overboard, but more must surely go. In a corner lay the 
battery of dry cells used to explode the detonating sound- 
signals. They weighed twenty pounds at least, and 
what about possible heads below ! We could see nothing 


Acoustic Mysteries 

through the clouds, but needs must under certain cir- 
cumstances, and over they went, while a moment after- 
wards the clouds broke and disclosed a prospect of brown 
fields and green meadows beneath. But we had no time 
to take in their details. Ten seconds exactly from leaving 
the cloud we struck the earth, our spent balloon lifting not 
an inch from where she fell. The shock was severe, but 
the grass was soft and marshy. We lay for a moment 
breathless in the car in the middle of a large deserted 
pasture, and then there slowly strolled up a solitary 
labourer. He had been in an adjoining field with some 
sheep when our dry cells fell from the cloudy sky with 
terrific impact almost beside him. A little natural ex- 
citement might have been pardoned him under the cir- 
cumstances, but he seemed barely interested. The rustics 
of Oundle, in Northamptonshire, within three miles of 
which we fell, are undoubtedly of a peculiarly phlegmatic 
turn of mind. 



TWICE this summer of 1902 Bacon spent a happy 
night sitting up in the Ball of St. Paul's, listening 
to the acoustic effects of the sleeping city's restless slum- 
bers, testing minor air drifts, ascending and decending 
currents and the like, with tiny paper parachutes or 
delicate anemometers, and taking photographs with a 
couple of hours' exposure unique pictures they proved 
of the strange and beautiful scene. The last occasion 
was the night of the Coronation illuminations, when 
fairyland itself seemed revealed to the watcher aloft. 
One noteworthy observation recorded was the far greater 
audibility of distant sounds carried along the reaches of 
the river. It seemed made clear that the penetration of 
sounds across water is influenced by conditions of atmo- 
sphere, of which wind is not always the chief. It was 
for the following up of these lines of investigation that 
Bacon sought and obtained permission, another time, 
to pass a night in the upper rooms of Tower Bridge. The 
whole central building, both towers, with the connecting 
galleries, were placed at his entire disposal, and, wholly 
unmolested (for he and his daughter were locked in and 
left by the night watchman), he prosecuted his experi- 
ments out on the leads or in the great dusty, deserted 
chambers under the roofs. 

As an honoured guest at civic dinners, scientific 
soirees, conversaziones, meetings, and the like, Bacon 




Page 303 

Across the Irish Sea 

was coming personally more into touch with the leaders 
of the scientific world, while his work, original and pic- 
turesque as it was, was daily attracting more general and 
widespread attention. I think it was Judge Bacon who 
first informed him of his popular nickname of " Bacon- 
in-the-Air," a happy counterpart to " Bacon-under- 
Water," the illustrious Captain Bacon of submarine 
fame. The idea of a clerical balloonist a veritable " sky 
pilot," as it was pointed out seemed to appeal to the lay 
mind, and not only were articles from his own pen fre- 
quent in the daily and monthly journals, but interviews, 
portraits, biographical sketches, and the like, testified to 
the general interest his labours and personality excited. 
As a natural result of so much notice directed to it, the 
science of aeronautics was becoming a much-talked-of one, 
and ballooning, after lying many years in abeyance, was 
rapidly rising into fashion. 

The events of the recent South African Campaign had 
brought to the front again the all-momentous question 
of the use of the balloon in warfare. Military history 
has shown, over and over again, but most strikingly in 
the story of the siege of Paris, of what great service a 
balloon may prove in time of war ; and, ardent aeronaut 
as he was, it could not be doubted that Bacon's interest 
would be keenly aroused in this branch of his art. As 
has been told, he had already experimented in methods 
of signalling, for military purposes, from a free balloon, by 
means of a collapsing drum, wireless telegraphy, and the 
like, and this summer, in conjunction with his friend 
Mr. Maskelyne, he began work with a hot-air military 
balloon of their joint invention of which more anon. 
Meanwhile other ideas were occurring to him. 

Conditions of warfare have altered tremendously in the 
course of thirty years, yet the sieges of Ladysmith, Kim- 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

berley , and Maf eking could not fail to suggest comparisons 
with the siege of Paris, and invite speculations as to what 
chance a free balloon, rising from a beleaguered city, 
would have of escaping from the guns of to-day, or of a 
pursuing enemy mounted on cycles or motor-cars. Re- 
flection on this point eventually led Bacon to the sug- 
gesting of a pretty and instructive little experiment, 
which was immediately welcomed with popular enthu- 
siasm. A balloon ascent was arranged from Stamford 
Bridge, representing for the nonce a besieged town, one 
August Saturday afternoon ; and, through the Press, a 
challenge was issued to the various military cycle corps 
of the Home District, inviting them to impersonate the 
enemy, and try and catch the balloon and secure the 
dispatches it was supposed to be conveying. The com- 
petition was approved by the Commander-in-Chief, and 
a fine muster of men from the 26th Middlesex, the Tower 
Hamlets, the Artists' Corps, and others, in uniform, 
supplemented by many civilian cyclists, vaulted on to 
their bicycle saddles in hot pursuit as the balloon rose 
majestically above the shouting crowd, filling the Athletic 
Grounds, and drifted south-west over Fulham. 

The arrangement was that the balloon should come 
to earth within twenty miles of London, when every 
effort would be made by Bacon, as bearer of the dis- 
patches, to escape by any means from his pursuers. The 
course was purposely maintained close above the ground, 
out of consideration for the cyclists threading their way 
at a disadvantage through crowded streets, and the light 
breeze drove it forward at a speed of some twelve miles 
an hour. 

Nevertheless, the " enemy " quickly found that balloon 
hunting through South London suburbs was a harder 
task than they had anticipated. It was a case of each 



See page 302 


Page 303 

Across the Irish Sea 

man for himself, and while some followed new roads 
running apparently in the direction of the balloon's course, 
only to find themselves confronted by boundaries and 
blank walls, others hauled their machines over fences, 
crossed fields and market gardens on foot, and hoped to 
emerge on more likely tracks where they could mount 
again. One party, coming to cross roads and a sign-post, 
decided on a road which, after a seven-mile ride, brought 
them back to the sign-post again. Another became so 
entangled in brickfields that when they at length emerged 
all hope of successful pursuit was at an end. Not until 
too late did the wheelmen realize that the wiser course 
would have been to have carried maps, to have noted at 
the outset the general direction that the balloon was 
taking, and having drawn a line in this direction to have 
followed it as the true guide to the best route. 

It was a game race, for a shifting wind caused the 
balloon from time to time to tack back and forth, doub- 
ling on her tracks like a hare. Wimbledon was passed, 
and Epsom, and the aeronauts saw the streams of crawling 
black ants on the white roads thin out and fall farther 
behind, until at last, when ground was touched in a har- 
vest field a little off the road between Leatherhead and 
Bookham, not a cyclist was in sight. They were close 
at hand though, and quick as possible Bacon was out of 
the car, across the field, and had effectually hidden him- 
self inside a corn-shock, before the first panting and per- 
spiring pursuer burst shouting through the hedge. Others 
were quick upon his heels, until the field was full of the 
enemy, but it was the fourth man in who disinterred Bacon 
from his hiding-place and seized his dispatches, for which 
feat he was awarded the prize of a handsome pair of field- 

On all hands the chase was voted a great success ; hare 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

and hounds were equally delighted, and the party were 
already dispersing with mutual congratulations, when, 
like a bolt from the blue, a sudden and terrible disaster 
converted the pleasure of the day in a moment to saddest 
tragedy. The race had been over an hour and more, 
the last cyclists had long ago arrived, and Bacon and his 
party were already directing their steps towards the 
station, when a cry arose from the still crowded field 
that the balloon was loose ; and in a moment it sprang 
up above the heads of the crowd, rapidly rising, with 
three or four startled people, one a mere child, standing 
horror-stricken in the car. As it rose it dragged up after 
it its long trail-rope lying on the ground, and at the shout, 
" Hold on to the rope ! " first one man and then another 
laid hold in the hope of restraining the fugitive craft. 
Had they only all got their strength on together all would 
have been well, but, as it was, one by one they were lifted 
from the ground, and dropped off at greater or less height, 
falling over each other, until half a dozen people were 
rolling on the field, of whom one at least was badly bruised 
and shaken. 

Shaking off its would-be captors, the balloon plunged 
aloft, and the crowd shrieked with horror as they saw 
that one man still clung to the trail-rope and now hung 
dangling, many feet high in air. All too late he realized 
his predicament, and, hand over hand, he slid down the 
rope at a speed which must have ripped the skin from 
off his palms. But before he reached the end of the cord 
he was forty feet at least from the ground, and he fell 
upon the iron-parched earth with a sickening thud which 
those who heard it can hear still, and which, breaking 
his neck, killed him instantly. 

The cause of the accident was soon explained. The 
balloon descended quietly, still full of gas, and out of 


Across the Irish Sea 

pure good nature Mr. Spencer allowed the cyclists, and 
the many harvesters and villagers who quickly crowded 
to the scene, captive ascents in the car, letting them up 
to the length of the trail-rope and pulling them down 
again. There was no lack of helpers while the fun lasted, 
and all went smoothly until Mr. Spencer announced that 
it was time to cease and that no more rides would be 
given. Forgetful of the result of so doing, the men who 
were holding the basket, now that the fun was over, 
let go their hold and turned on their heels, when, in a 
moment, the balloon was off and away, bearing its un- 
intentional passengers with it. Concerning their fate 
there was much agonized apprehension among the crowd, 
but in reality their position was not one of any danger ; 
and one of them having the sense to pull the valve-line 
they descended safely, though horribly scared, a few 
hundred yards away. The man who lost his life was one 
John Tickner, a farm labourer in corduroys and hob- 
nailed boots, who either lacked the quickness to realize 
his peril until it was too late, or, as we prefer to think, 
while realizing it, imagined that by holding on he might 
be saving the lives of those in the car, and so knowingly 
risked his own in noble self-sacrifice. Alas ! he left a wife 
and family, for whom Bacon immediately opened a sub- 
scription, and, much sympathy being aroused, a hundred 
pounds or so was quickly collected and placed in good 
hands for their relief. 

From a military point of view the result of the race 
seemed to show that, granted a moderately calm day, 
without low-lying cloud, cyclists should certainly be able 
to follow and capture a balloon when the journey is short. 
On the other hand, the pursuers were convinced that with 
a strong wind blowing they would have had no chance 
whatever, while for such a course as they had just run a 
u 305 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

cavalryman, lightly equipped and on a mount used to 
cross-country work, would have had the advantage of 
them. Moreover the balloonist, unless the cyclists were 
very close up when he fell, might well hope to escape by 
hiding, if the country were wooded. Pursuers and pur- 
sued alike were keen for another trial, and so a fortnight 
later a second race was organized, starting this time 
from the Crystal Palace, and on a day when widely 
different conditions prevailed. 

For this time, although along the surface of the ground 
the wind travelled but slowly, at the level of the clouds 
it blew in strength ; and soon after the start a some- 
what exciting one, for the balloon narrowly escaped 
collision with the North Tower the heavy canopy of 
vapour dropped earthward, and presently completely 
hid the balloon from view! The cyclists, riding on this 
occasion in military formation and under the direction 
of officers, had profited by their previous lesson, and kept 
to the broad main thoroughfares, following the wind. 
But above the cloud the current sped swiftly, and when 
the aeronauts descended again it was evident that they 
had gained largely on the pursuit. Darkness was gather- 
ing, and they desired to come down, but the country 
over which they found themselves was thickly wooded, 
and not till near Godalming could they happen on a 
suitable landing-place. They were then more than 
thirty miles from their starting-point, and their escape 
from capture was beyond question. Nevertheless a plucky 
party of the King's Royal Rifles, with splendid deter- 
mination, kept up the chase as far as Guildford, when 
night closed down upon them. The lesson in this case 
was obvious. Let an enemy be as vigilant as he may, and 
possessed of the deadliest weapons known in modern 
warfare, it should still be perfectly possible in any country 


Across the Irish Sea 

where overcast skies recur to make an aerial flight over 
any hostile country soever. More than this, the balloon- 
ists need fear no capture when they voyage on a dark 
night. On the other hand, when cyclists chase a war 
balloon they need not abandon hope of catching it when 
the balloon is occasionally hidden from view by clouds, 
so long as they can make sure of following its general 

On the whole, the balance of advantage would appear 
to rest with the balloon in a race against wheelmen. 

Military balloon hunting, thus happily inaugurated by 
Bacon, became for a while very popular ; motor-cars 
were substituted for bicycles, and several exciting races 
took place after balloons piloted by Mr. Frank Butler, 
the Hon. C. S. Rolls, Mr. Leslie Bucknell, and other Aero 
Club leaders. Bacon, meantime, had bent his thoughts 
in other directions, and now was meditating how his 
beloved art could be made to benefit not the Army alone, 
but might even be turned to the use of the sister service, 
the Navy. 

At first sight it might indeed appear that, however 
useful a balloon may be to an attacking or defending 
army on land, in naval warfare at least it can find no 
possible place. But this is very far from being the fact. 
It has long been recognized that objects under water, 
such as shoals and sunken rocks, become visible, or more 
visible, when viewed from a height, and it was on the 
authority of Admiral Fremantle that Bacon learned 
that it is customary at sea, when some sunken object is 
suspected of lying in a vessel's course, but cannot be seen 
from deck, to send a man aloft, when the higher he can 
climb the mast the further will his vision penetrate be- 
neath the waves. There is a recognized optical reason 
for this fact, and were the sailor on the top of a lofty 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

cliff he would see better still. Therefore, argued Bacon, 
from a balloon at not too great an elevation his power 
would be yet further increased, and he would be enabled 
to see the bottom of a shallow sea in a way that could not 
by any other means be obtained. It needs no pointing 
out that in these days of submarines, sunken mines, 
torpedoes, and the like, the possibility of seeing beneath 
the waves becomes of the vastest naval importance, and 
thus at once it becomes evident that, far from a balloon 
being useless at sea, it might, under certain circumstances, 
prove of the utmost value. 

This granted, there immediately arise many other 
points of much interest ; such as the feasibility of steer- 
ing a reconnoitring balloon with a trail-rope across the 
sea, and the maintaining of communication over great 
distances say from the shore to a ship that has long 
passed out of sight by means of balloon signalling. The 
more Bacon thought of the matter the more convinced 
he became that here lay a fresh field for most instructive 
and useful investigation, and it further appeared to him 
that for experiments of such a nature the Irish Sea 
mainly bounded as it is by neighbouring coast-lines 
offered obvious and special facilities. 

It goes without saying that to Bacon it was an immense 
attraction that from an aeronautical point of view the 
Irish sea was practically if the phrase may be pardoned 
a terra incognita, and that it moreover possessed some 
certain element of danger. The crossing of the English 
Channel by balloon has become, comparatively speaking, 
a cockney performance, accomplished without risk times 
beyond number, ever since the days when an American 
doctor and a French aeronaut made the first aerial 
passage a century and a quarter ago, less than two years 
after the balloon was first invented. Only once, how- 


Across the Irish Sea 

ever, in the whole story of aeronautics, had a balloon 
found its way over that treacherous stretch of water that 
divides England from the Emerald Isle ; for here the 
winds are proverbially fickle and headstrong ; and high 
aloft there blows ever an upper current, sweeping in the 
direction of the Channel's length, and offering great ob- 
stacle and grave risk to a balloonist endeavouring to 
reach either shore. No more adventurous voyage was 
ever experienced than befell Mr. Sadler, when, in 1812, 
he made the first and unsuccessful attempt to cross the 
Channel. Twice the upper current bore him out towards 
the Atlantic, until he was forced at length to descend in 
the water and cling desperately to his sinking craft until 
picked up by a passing vessel with the life scarce left in 
him. It was his own son, five years later, who accom- 
plished the feat, passing in five hours with a fair wind 
and a low flight straight from Dublin to Holy head. 

Clearly, for balloon experiments to be carried out with 
anything like safety over such a dangerous sea, the 
services of a vessel on the water, to " stand by " in case 
of trouble, were imperative. For should the upper wind 
bear the aeronauts irresistibly out towards the ocean, 
their only possible chance would be to drop in the water 
and fight it out with the waves until picked up. Even 
then shoals, currents, and fickle breezes might render the 
rescue anything but an easy one. The possessors of 
private yachts to whom Bacon applied for help doubted 
their capability for such a task ; the manager of a well- 
known firm of shipowners replied that he had no spare 
vessel, but could build one ! Finally, my father ever 
more convinced of the importance of the work laid 
the whole scheme before the Admiralty itself ; with a 
result that the suggested trial was discussed, approved 
of, and ultimately heartily taken up. A gunboat 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

H.M.S. " Renard," under command of Lieut. Sholto 
Douglas, was placed at Bacon's disposal, and full in- 
structions were issued to her officers to lend every 
assistance in their power for the prosecution of the 

By this time it was November, a month curiously 
associated with balloon enterprise, since its general ab- 
sence of wind more than atones for the shortness of the 
autumn days. The work was to take place immediately, 
and Bacon repaired to Holyhead, where the " Renard " 
lay, there to consult with the experts, both naval and 
aeronautical, as to the plan of campaign. The first move 
was to telegraph to the gas managers of a number of 
seaports on the west coast of England and Wales, and on 
the east coast of Ireland, regarding the feasibility of in- 
flating a balloon in their towns. Next, guided by their 
replies and by the probable direction of the wind, came 
the task of selecting the most suitable starting-point. 
After much studying of maps and discussion of pros and 
cons, the choice fell on the Isle of Man, which, from its 
position between the shores of England, Wales, Scot- 
land, and Ireland, offered most latitude in the matter of 
air-currents. A favourable answer was received as to 
the gas-supply of Douglas, and it was decided to repair 
thither the next morning. 

With service-like despatch, the bulky balloon, its car 
and appurtenances, were placed in the steam cutter of 
the gunboat and conveyed on board, followed by Bacon 
and Mr. Percival Spencer. They found the " Renard " a 
smart craft of 800 tons, carrying a complement of ninety- 
two officers and men. More than a third of these came 
under command of the chief engineer, who answered 
all anxious queries as to the capability of the " Renard " 
to keep pace with the balloon with ready confidence, 


Across the Irish Sea 

since could she not, he said, produce fourteen knots if 
desired, and probably more if put to it ? Two experts, 
in the persons of an officer from H.M.S. " Vernon " and a 
naval engineer, were on board as special representatives 
of the Admiralty to report on the experiments. For the 
rest, Bacon, who, of course, was in his element, writes 
delightedly of the novel experience : 

" Life on a British gunboat was a revelation to one 
whose knowledge of sea voyages had been confined to 
liners. Being put on board, it is needless to say that, 
though the hour was early, all was in perfect order, with 
spotless decks, and every inch of brass shining brilliantly 
in the sunlight. Then the cutters, which had been ashore 
for our bulky gear, were hauled up to the davits with the 
sheer strength of seventy men, giving way together as 
only sailors can. After this I was ' lionised ' everywhere 
in the snug cabins of the Captain and officers, the 
well-found and well-lit quarters of the men, that marvel 
of culinary art the galley, down to the very stoke-hole 
itself, if I cared for a descent to a miniature Tartarus. 
Then came the grim reality of the thing. To climb the 
companion you squeezed past a long evil-looking gun 
pointing aft, technically known as a * 4.7.' Hard by 
was a three-pound quick-firing recoil gun, as also a Maxim, 
faced on the opposite side by a Whitehead torpedo of 
newest pattern, the wicked working of which was shown 
me with obvious pride. The sharp propeller blades 
responsible for the loss of many a man's fingers were 
set revolving, a charge in dummy inserted in one of the 
pieces, and the safety pin removed, which then left the 
discharge simply controlled by a press button in the 
conning tower. But at noon a bugle-call turned the 
general attention to a happier topic, and I had the grati* 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

fication of witnessing the ship's company attending, in 
serious earnest, to the business of dinner in the various 
messes right good fare was there, beautifully cooked, and 
keenly relished. Of course there was the grog, the busi- 
nesslike serving of which was as much a reality as in the 
days of Marryat ; after which the crew dispersed to a 
score of tasks, splicing where rigging had been damaged, 
repairing canvas, even needlework of an apparently pri- 
vate nature accomplished with a veritable sewing machine 
brought on deck. The impression left on a landsman's 
mind was that, when all is said and done, the British 
Navy must surely be all that it ever was, and that Jack 
at sea has by no means a bad time of it." 

But before long Bacon had an opportunity of seeing 
that life on a gunboat is not all the pleasant experience 
it at first appeared. Ere the Isle of Man was reached that 
afternoon, dark clouds had enveloped the November 
sun, the wind uprose, the sea grew rough and rougher, 
until heavy seas washed the deck with every frequent 
roll. The " Renard " anchored off Douglas in a regular 
gale, and with some difficulty Bacon and Spencer were 
rowed ashore amid big sea mountains, momentarily 
rising higher. To land the heavy balloon gear proved 
absolutely out of the question, nor were matters any 
better the next day, when the south-easterly gale con- 
tinued to urge the tumultuous sea in heavy rollers into 
the bay, and through the mist the "Renard" showed 
barely visible a mile from the shore. This was Wednes- 
day, and on Thursday Bacon wrote to the " Morning 
Post," through whose columns he was communicating 
daily, to an interested public, tidings of his doings : 

" Calmer air and a rising glass have restored the hope 



Across the Irish Sea 

of an early start, but it has been foul and contrary weather 
of the worst type. The gunboat had a long rough night, 
which kept the night watch busy if not anxious, and the 
balloon gear had to be securely lashed to avoid its being 
washed completely overboard. A big green sea invaded 
the officers' quarters, and banished comfort for many 
hours. One contrary and serious circumstance still 
remains ; the wind veers treacherously about the one 
quarter fraught with danger, which would carry us out 
to the open sea through the North Channel. But opera- 
tions are in full progress ; only unfortunately our re- 
quirements are altogether beyond the power of man 
whether spelt with a capital M or otherwise. We must 
have it reasonably calm to render inflation possible, and 
though the right weather has prevailed for a month, we 
seem to have brought with us an east wind which the 
weather-wise assure us will last a week. There is a strange 
sense of isolation and helplessness about our position to- 
day. Having come ashore last night to make necessary 
preparations, we became cut off from our vessel by a sea 
almost too wild for any boat to live in, and though the 
flash-light from the masthead was sweeping the waves 
up to a late hour of the night, to aid our return over the 
black water if we cared to attempt it, there was no object 
to be gained by our so doing. We have no course left 
but to exercise all the patience we are possessed of. 

" Friday Night. 

" The same stormy weather prevails here, with the wind 
impetuous in strength, and dangerous in direction. 
Upper clouds are flying so fast that the gunboat could 
not possibly overhaul us if in distress, and life-belts would 
not long preserve life in this wild sea. A wind due north 
or due south would suffice, and would be safe with any 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

point of west in it. North-east would also serve, but 
veering as it does between south and east there would 
be the gravest danger of being carried out to the ocean 
through the North Channel. Moreover, the present 
force of the gale renders inflation impossible. Our 
sympathies are with our friends on the ' Renard,' who 
have seas constantly sweeping their decks. While I 
was crossing to the ship yesterday one of the sailors was 
washed overboard and hauled out with a rope." 

Trying as this forced detention was, the time was being 
turned to good account on the island. Preparations 
were going forward apace, with a celerity and ease un- 
precedented, in fact, for the Manxmen had extended a 
welcome to the aeronauts which fairly astonished them. 
How hearty a Manx welcome may be the King and Queen 
had experienced only a few weeks earlier, while on their 
summer cruise ; but it may be doubted whether even 
their Majesties were hailed with greater enthusiasm, 
since kings and queens, though rare, are not unheard 
of in Mona's Isle, while never before in history had its 
narrow shores witnessed the ascent of a free balloon. 
From the moment of Bacon's arrival the good folk of 
Douglas vied with each other in their efforts to assist the 
experiments by all means in their power, and in truth the 
balloonists were scarce over-modest in their demands. 
The first requirement was a suitable spot for inflation, 
which should be at once central, open, and in proximity 
to the largest gas-mains of the town. Such conditions 
indeed were admirably fulfilled by the quadrangle at the 
southern end of the Parade, one of the principal open 
spaces of the town, in front of the chief hotel and flanking 
the approaches to the harbour. No place, in fact, would 
be better for the purpose, but then, as Bacon pointed out, 

Across the Irish Sea 

who in their senses would dream of suggesting to the town 
authorities a request which would be equivalent to a 
demand for Piccadilly Circus or Trafalgar Square, in 
which to inflate a balloon ? 

Nevertheless, the gas manager raised no sort of ob- 
jection, provided the consent of the police was obtained. 
To ask the superintendent of police in an important town 
for leave to break up and obstruct the chief highway 
might seem a bold proceeding, yet the favour was im- 
mediately and right graciously granted, with the one 
proviso that the Harbour Commissioners must first be 
conciliated, since the busy traffic to and from the boats 
must necessarily be impeded. But the Commissioners 
made light of the matter, said that the traffic could go 
another way, and merely pointed out that the Peveril 
Hotel would be the principal sufferer, since its whole 
front entrance would be absolutely blocked. However, 
after the hotel proprietor had smilingly assured them 
that his customers would be quite as delighted to come 
in at the back, the matter was considered settled, the 
thoroughfare was fenced off with barriers, and workmen 
dug down and unearthed the gas connections. 

On the Friday Bacon writes in his note book : " Our 
detention continues, but the whole place is doing its 
very utmost to make our stay not only tolerable but en- 
joyable. Our hotel is the centre of attraction in the 
island. Residents from a distance drive up to the newly 
erected barrier outside, peep down the ' filling pit,' and 
drive off again, or in many instances pay us a formal call 
and offer every hospitality. The Club is thrown open 
to us, boxes at the theatre placed at our disposal ; little 
acts of genuine courtesy, gracefully and naturally ren- 
dered, greet us at every turn. A pint of varnish was 
needed and obtained for a patch in the balloon, but the 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

tradesman would on no account accept payment for what 
he regarded as but a friendly service. A message was 
required to be sent to a neighbouring bay. Well, there 
was a boat, and the rowers were idle ; they would go for 
the mere gratification of making themselves of use. As 
some slight return, it is arranged that should we be here 
over to-morrow night I am to give a lecture in the Town 
Hall on my past aeronautical experiences and the work 
now in prospect. I take it that at this period, when the 
season is completely over, and the thousands of visitors 
have drifted back to Lancashire and elsewhere, one sees 
the Manxman at his best, and certainly I have never 
been more favourably impressed with a people anywhere." 

Saturday morning broke wild as ever, and the "Renard" 
at daybreak flew the negative signal as an indication 
that the balloon voyage was considered inadvisable. As 
the day wore on the gale increased, and presently the gun- 
boat, tired of her continual buffeting, weighed anchor 
and steamed away to Holyhead, there to lie in shelter 
until the weather should moderate. The proposed lec- 
ture was given in the Douglas theatre that night, and 
repeated again on Sunday evening, by which time the 
storm seemed to have blown itself out. Monday broke 
fair and sunny, with subsiding sea and only a moderate 
wind from the south. Clearly the chance had come at 
last, and almost before sunrise the empty balloon was 
laid across the roadway in preparation for the inflation, 
which was immediately commenced when a wire came 
from the " Renard " announcing that she had started from 
Holyhead, and by midday would be lying in readiness 
twenty miles to leeward. 

Then indeed the excitement of the past week culminated. 
The news was flashed round the island, and by special 
trains and trams and all manner of vehicles the Manxmen 


Across the Irish Sea 

in their thousands came pouring into Douglas. By noon 
15,000 people at least were crowded into the space before 
the Peveril Hotel, swarming like bees upon the roofs, 
the piers, the beach, everywhere where a glimpse could be 
caught of the swelling balloon towering up into the air, 
and bearing on one side the big white sail with which 
it was proposed to steer it when open water was reached. 
Many were the speculations as to the probable course of 
the voyage. Originally the aeronauts had hoped for a 
breeze which would bear them to Ireland, but in this 
they were clearly doomed to disappointment. Early 
in the day all indications seemed to point to Cumberland 
being their destination, so much so that on the mainland 
friends went to the coast and watched for their arrival. 
But as the morning advanced the wind seemed veering 
round to the west with troublesome little gusts and scuds 
that, in that draughty corner, drove the restive silk in 
dangerous proximity to sharp angles of buildings and 
pointed lamp-posts. Shortly after noon, while the 
willing boatmen helpers laboured to restrain the heaving 
monster, a ringing shot boomed out across the sea and 
echoed round the bay, telling that the "Renard" was 
already at hand. Preparations were pressed forward, 
and at 1.30 Bacon and Spencer, on whom enthusiastic 
islanders had pressed provisions for the voyage, button- 
holes, lucky Manx coins, and all imaginable tokens of 
good will, jumped into the basket, and rose into the air 
as the roar of 15,000 voices rent the sky in a deafening 

At the start an ugly collision with a corner of the hotel 
roof caused a moment's alarm. No damage, however, 
was done, but what caused the balloonists some real 
anxiety was the discovery, quickly made, that the upper 
currents were bearing them markedly to the left of their 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

anticipated drift, and in unpleasant proximity to that 
north-eastern course leading through the dread North 
Channel and out over the ocean, with no land ahead 
short of Greenland. Moreover the wind aloft was proving 
a rapid one, and in the event of a forced descent in the 
water, to avoid the Atlantic, no vessel built, save possibly 
a destroyer, could overhaul them in time to be of any 

Meantime the view below was unfolding in ever greater 
beauty and interest. Douglas Bay gleamed fair as that 
of Naples, its myriad ripples reflecting the sunlight. On 
its shores clustered the dark masses of the people with 
white upturned faces. Every detail of the Parade re- 
vealed itself, and then the bold promontory of Derby 
Castle with the electric railway twisting along the coast, 
and the waves foaming at the foot of the cliffs. After 
this the course was inland over the rugged heart of Man, 
the village of Laxey with its giant wheel, romantic glens 
and watercourses, and then the lofty mountain- tops, 
some bare, some cloud-capped, to avoid which the balloon 
had perforce to rise higher in air. The long trail-rope, 
already free, slithered over the summit of Snaefell, the 
highest peak of the island, and immediately after the 
course seemed to change, veering again to safety and 
the eastward, and bearing the balloon over Ramsey, where, 
warned by telephone from Douglas, the inhabitants had 
poured out into the streets to watch its advance over 
the wooded hills. On the left lay the Point of Ayre, the 
extreme tip of the island. Above this they passed at a 
height of 4000 feet, and then out over the open sea. 

Where was the " Renard " ? Bacon's gaze wandered 
over the wide expanse of sparkling water, from that 
height apparently of glassy smoothness, and lighted on 
a tiny craft like a child's toy, rounding a distant headland, 

Across the Irish Sea 

and churning up in its rear a just perceptible line of creamy 
foam. Was this indeed the gunboat, and could it be 
possible to be in communication with so minute an object ? 
With the collapsing drum, slung beneath, he signalled 
in Morse code, "Whistle," and immediately uprose 
faintly a double blast from the ship's steam hooter. 
Clearly the sailors of air and water were perfectly in 
touch, yet probably not for long, since it soon became 
evident that the boat, despite its efforts, was falling be- 
hind. Nor could this be helped, since, though the faithful 
engineer was getting his fifteen knots out of the engines, 
was not the brisk upper current urging the aerial craft 
forward at a good thirty ! 

The steering experiments must be carried out at once, 
and, the sun breaking through clouds which occasionally 
enveloped it, Bacon lowered his other signalling apparatus 
a bright heliographic ball which seemed to hang like 
a star beneath the car, and telegraphed, " Shall trail soon." 
Down came the balloon with a swoop, barely avoiding 
a ducking. The trail-rope now dragged a long length 
through the water, and the big sail bellied out full and 
straining. So the helm was put about, and immediately 
the balloon's course came under control. 

In his subsequent report to the Admiralty on the sub- 
ject of the steering experiments Bacon writes : " Our 
steering apparatus fully justified our expectations. The 
possibility of diverting our course to a very useful extent 
was clearly demonstrated, though we cannot commit 
ourselves to any statement as to the actual angle of 
divergence. . . . Practically it is an exceedingly difficult 
matter to keep the balloon within the limits required for 
steering manoeuvres. As soon as the trailing rope has 
slowed down the balloon, the sail and silk, catch- 
ing the wind, tend to lift the machine like a kite, 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

and if owing to this the rope rises clear of the water, the 
sudden release means a fresh and a free start into the 
sky. . . . Our contiguity to the waves was awkward in 
our case, where we had other apparatus to take damage, 
but I am convinced that the steering in question deserves 
another trial specially devoted to it. It would probably 
entail occasionally dipping in the water and again rising 
clear out of it, but there need be no risk." 

So presently the balloon plunged upwards into the sky 
again, where it hung at varying heights, and then arose 
the all-important question that they had come primarily 
to settle the visibility of the bottom of the sea. Here 
at least the answer admitted of no possible doubt. The 
surface of the water was broken and ruffled with the 
tossing waves that a week's wild weather had lashed to 
anger. To peer from a ship's side even a few feet into 
that troubled sea, over which the white horses were 
careering, would have been absolutely impossible. Yet 
from the balloon, although the sun's rays were reflected 
dazzlingly from the rollers which seemed to cross and 
intersect each other in curious criss-cross pattern, the 
whole appeared of glassy transparency, through which 
the sea-bottom showed with absolute distinctness. Not 
only could it be seen with the eye indeed, but it was 
clear enough to admit of being photographed, and, with 
his ordinary five-guinea Kodak camera, Bacon secured 
a record which was absolutely unique in the annals of 

It was taken from a height of about 600 feet over shoal 
water, ten fathoms that is sixty feet deep. How dis- 
turbed the surface was at the time is plainly shown by 
the ripple marks all over the picture, and which in one 
corner, where the sun was reflected, cast a myriad white 
speckles. Yet most clearly visible, despite these, appear 



See page 322 


Page 320 

Across the Irish Sea 

the broad, white, misshapen patches of sand at the 
bottom, and bounding them the well-marked darker 
masses of seaweed-covered rock among which they lie. 
No one looking at this photograph can, for a moment, 
doubt that should a submarine be lurking in such depths 
it would be instantly and unmistakably revealed. 

Bacon found that this visibility of the sea-bottom was 
entirely a matter of height. For seeing was best at and 
below 500 feet aloft, while at 1000 feet or higher, whether 
the balloon were over deep water or not, the sea appeared 
opaque. It seemed to him, therefore, absolutely established 
by practice, and not only in accordance with theory, that 
the secrets of the sea depths, which hide themselves 
even from the trained eye of the sailor on board ship, 
should become revealed to an aeronaut who will poise 
himself in open space overhead, say ten times higher 
than the maintop. 

After these experiments ballast was thrown out, and 
the balloon ascended till its occupants looked down on 
the sea from the height of a mile and a half. Around 
them was spread a sky-scape unrivalled " a far-reach- 
ing sea of cloud, torn and fretted, and tossing wildly 
aloft, while from the depth arose a strange, soft, musical 
murmur which filled the air. Silver cloudlets sailing 
through the void below served to make the deep gulf 
look deeper, and far and faint, a mere dark, dim, wedge 
of earth, the last of Manxland was fading out in distance. 
And now, looking ahead, we scanned with eager curios- 
ity a dark belt of lowering cloud that hung heavily across 
the sky-line and barred our view. Somewhere beyond 
and behind must lie our goal, and this, if the balloon held 
its course, should be the Scottish coast, as yet some forty 
miles away." 

Long before land was reached the " Renard," hope- 
x 321 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

lessly outdistanced, had become indistinguishable on 
the now dark sea. Nevertheless, she loyally kept her 
course until, in Kirkcudbright Bay, she caught a last 
glimpse of the balloon disappearing far inland to the 
south. For, as the day waned, the rocky Scottish shores 
approached, and the coast line of the Solway Firth was 
crossed eastward of Abbey Head. Then the balloon sped 
inland with Castle Douglas on the left, and wild moors 
lay beneath them in shadowy desolation as the daylight 
faded. In place of the murmur of the sea rose the cry 
of the grouse, and ever and again the roar of mountain 
streams. Tiny pale blue lochs lay here and there, but 
suddenly all was swallowed in a rolling Scotch mist into 
which they plunged headlong, and while completely 
hidden in its damping folds came a trembling and jerking 
of the car, as the long trail-rope, skimming over a moun- 
tain peak in whose " nightcap " they were then enveloped, 
touched earth. Every vibration of the trail as it danced 
up and down the mountain-side could be felt, but not a 
thing could be seen until, with startling suddenness, they 
emerged to find themselves over a broad valley, fertile 
and dotted over with dwellings. 

Here was the spot for the descent, and down they 
came on the lee side of a pine plantation expecting to fall 
in a field there. But they cleared the wood and found 
immediately on the other side a trim country house, 
towards whose front windows they were driving straight. 
With horror they watched the trail-rope wriggle itself in 
and out of the chimney-pots, a whole stack of which it 
threatened to demolish. Happily it contented itself 
with knocking down the coping of a wall in the next field, 
and finally, in the long damp grass and bog of a neighbour- 
ing deep glen, they found their resting-place, with day- 
light gone and heavy wet settling in. " We looked 


Across the Irish Sea 

around for sympathy and succour," wrote Bacon, " but 
whence was it to come ? We listened, but heard no sound 
save a dismal wail which came up the valley as a gust of 
wind, charged with flying scud, swept past. It was a 
wild, unpeopled spot, and the house with the chimneys 
was out of sight. The night was coming up dark and 
dirty, and the prospect was not cheering. . . . Presently 
there were voices, both human and canine, and two men 
appeared with three dogs between them. Then more 
men and more dogs, the latter, however, always pre- 
ponderating, and becoming increasingly obtrusive. Never 
had I seen Scotch caution more strikingly displayed than 
it was now by our present friends, and they were true 
friends at heart, though they kept their hands in their 
pockets and helped not a jot with the fallen balloon. 
' Was there a cart to be had ? ' ' WeU, they could na' 
be sure.' But of course there was a cart, wouldn't 
money hire it ? ' Well, maybe the horse was tired 

and ' the dogs ended the argument. It had long been 

brewing, and now a wild sea of lank collies and the like, 
madly tearing and entangled, surged over the ground, 
while their masters belaboured them with sticks." 

It was Colonel Ewing, of Stroquhon, the owner of the 
house they had passed over, and laird of the land, who 
eventually appeared on the disordered scene and ex- 
tended all help and hospitality in his power. Their 
landing-place was the Glen of Glenesslyn, fourteen miles 
from Dumfries and about eighty-five in a straight line 
from Douglas, which distance they had covered in a rare 
and historical sky voyage over land and sea never tra- 
versed by balloon before. 



THE Admiralty were much interested in the results 
of the cross-Channel voyage, and subsequently, I 
understand, followed up the experiments, thus success- 
fully inaugurated, for themselves in the Mediterranean. 
The photograph of the sea-bottom especially excited 
much attention, and subsequently led to two interest- 
ing sequelae. In the spring of the following year, the 
President of the Royal Society, then Sir William Huggins, 
invited Bacon to exhibit his balloon photographs by 
this time famous at the Royal Society Soir6e at Bur- 
lington House. The Prince of Wales attended the func- 
tion, and Bacon had the honour of being presented and 
showing his pictures. His Royal Highness was greatly 
interested, especially in the view of the sea-depths, which 
naturally appealed to his sailor mind, and he asked many 
questions and made many pertinent comments thereon. 

The second occasion was a year later still, at the time 
when public feeling was keenly aroused over the " regret- 
table incident " of the Dogger Bank. In a letter to the 
" Morning Post," Bacon, discussing the occurrence, and 
citing his own experience, pointed out how, from a balloon 
aloft over the sea, it would be readily possible to prove, 
or disprove, the existence of that mythical Japanese 
torpedo-boat which the Russian fleet declared had at- 
tacked them, and which now lay sunk by their guns. 
The papers rather took the matter up, and my father 


The Balloon in Warfare 

was interviewed on the subject ; but he was scarcely pre- 
pared to receive a letter from the Russian Embassy in 
London, asking him if he would be willing, on their behalf, 
to undertake the experiment he had suggested. 

National excitement at that moment was running 
perilously high, and Bacon felt that, while willing enough 
to make the trial though of his success in finding that 
torpedo-boat he could not but entertain the gravest 
doubts he should first consult his own Government on 
so momentous a step. He wrote accordingly to the 
Admiralty, and also to Mr. Balfour, at that time Prime 
Minister, explaining the position and asking what he 
should do. Mr. Balfour answered as follows : 

" Private. 10 Downing Street, 

"November igth, 1904. 


" In reply to your letter of the I4th, I think that 
if the Russian Naval Attache desires to have your assist- 
ance for any investigations bearing on the North Sea 
Disaster, it would be only right that you should give it. 
Anything which conduces to a knowledge of the truth 
must be valuable. 

" Please keep the Admiralty informed of what you 
propose to do, as I think there should be an Admiralty 
representative present. 

" I remain, 

" Yours faithfully, 


The Admiralty replied in similar terms, stipulating for 
a representative. So the course was cleared, but in the 
few intervening days before these answers were received 
the excitement had largely subsided, the political atmo- 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

sphere was brightening, and it was felt wisest on both 
sides to let the matter drop. 

In the autumn of 1902 Bacon's second book, " The 
Dominion of the Air," a popular history of aeronautics 
from their first inception to the present day, was pub- 
lished, and met with a favourable reception. Again a 
busy lecture season filled the winter, and much literary 
and other work kept the ever-active mind and facile pen 
employed. With the spring Bacon recommenced his 
experiments with the hot-air military balloon already 
referred to, and to which due reference must now be made. 

As has been already shown, it was from the invaluable 
practical advice and willing personal assistance of Mr. 
J. N. Maskelyne and his son Nevil that Bacon had ever 
received most help in his aeronautical and other experi- 
ments. With them, in their frequent meetings, he in- 
variably discussed all details of his schemes, and the 
result of certain of these consultations was the evolving 
of an invention for the ready inflation of military balloons. 
Every one knows that one of the greatest drawbacks 
attaching to the employment of balloons on active ser- 
vice a drawback which militates terribly against their 
efficiency is the difficulty and cost of transport and 
inflation. It is obviously impossible to count on ordinary 
household gas supply in the field. Military balloons, 
therefore which are of small size comparatively, and 
made of gold-beaters' skin, an exceedingly expensive 
material are inflated with pure hydrogen compressed 
and conveyed in bulky and tremendously heavy steel 
cylinders. The production of hydrogen is in itself a 
lengthy and expensive process, and when, as in the South 
African War, the cumbrous cylinders have to be carried 
thousands of miles by sea, and then hundreds more by 
land transport over difficult country, it needs no pointing 


The Balloon in Warfare 

out what tremendous labour and cost is involved, and 
how the inclusion of a balloon section may seriously 
hamper the mobility of a column. Moreover, the con- 
tents of a war balloon, once rilled, are too valuable to be 
lightly wasted, and unless the silk can remain inflated 
in most cases impossible only a very few captive ascents 
can be taken. Small wonder the military balloon in 
recent campaigns has met with but scant favour or 

Bacon and Maskelyne proposed to do away entirely 
with the hydrogen gas, and inflate instead with hot air. 
This method, of course, is not new, dating back to the 
days of Montgolfier, and frequently employed at the 
present time for parachute work. It was in the produc- 
tion of the hot air that the secret of the invention lay. 
Most of us are familiar with the little apparatus called 
a " roarer," which house-painters use to burn old paint 
off woodwork, and which, by the combustion of petroleum 
under pressure, gives out a heat quite marvellous in com- 
parison to its size. It was with a modified and greatly 
enlarged burner of this description that Bacon and 
Maskelyne planned to inflate their balloon, which more- 
over should, if necessary, carry its burner aloft with it 
in the sky even as Pilatre de Rozier carried his open 
fire with him in the first aerial voyage a century and a 
quarter ago. 

Experiments must be made tentatively ; so to begin 
with a small balloon of about 2000 cubic feet capacity 
was obtained, and trials commenced on the open ground 
of Bucklebury Common, beside Mr. Maskelyne's country 
cottage. The results were eminently encouraging. 
When details of inflation, burner, etc., had been satis- 
factorily mastered, the tiny craft, made simply of the 
closely woven cotton fabric from which balloons are 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

nowadays manufactured, would fill completely in the 
almost incredibly short space of thirty-eight seconds, 
and rise high in air not infrequently breaking loose 
from its restraining cord and leading its pursuers a stiff 
chase over springy heather and prickly gorse bushes. 
This balloon, of course, could not support the big burner 
which inflated it, but instead it carried a small box 
camera slung beneath, which, by an ingenious electrical 
arrangement worked through the restraining cable of 
insulated wire, could be made to take a photograph at the 
will of the operator below. By such a means as this it 
was claimed that even so tiny a craft could be turned to 
advantage in war time by allowing pictures to be taken, 
without risk, of the enemy's country. 

Encouraged by so successful a beginning, Bacon and 
Maskelyne, having patented their invention, launched out 
on more important trials. They bought a large hot-air 
balloon nearly 70,000 cubic feet in capacity, 50 feet in 
diameter, standing when filled 70 feet high, and weighing 
in itself nearly 300 Ib. To inflate this monster they had 
made a special burner of the nature described, fitted with 
pump and oil receiver, which at full pressure was capable 
of vaporizing 8 gallons of petroleum an hour. Then 
they set to work on experiments which were carried out 
on every available fine day throughout the spring and 
summer of 1903. The procedure was as follows. Early 
in the afternoon, Mr. Maskelyne being present, some 
dozen members of the Guildhall Club would cycle out to 
Coldash ideal assistants, quick and intelligent, giving 
their services enthusiastically out of love for their Presi- 
dent. By them the bulky balloon was carried into an 
adjoining field and carefully hauled across a portable 
wooden staging over which it was spread as a tent. 
Next the burner was placed beneath and lighted, the heat 



Page 328 

The Balloon in Warfare 

generated being conveyed into the mouth of the balloon 
through a long flexible and non-inflammable flue of 

The next few minutes demanded care and attention 
on the part of the helpers, for the heat from the burners 
was tremendous, and unless the cotton folds of the 
balloon were properly placed and adjusted there was 
risk of their becoming scorched. However, the men 
soon grew handy at the work, and in a very short time 
the filling material had lifted itself out of danger. In 
but nine minutes the great mass was slowly heaving 
aloft, and displaying the scarlet gores and stars with 
which it was ornamented. In a quarter of an hour it 
was standing upright, and in twenty-five minutes only 
from the start it was fully inflated and fidgeting to be 
off and away. When full, the wooden staging was re- 
moved, and a wicker car attached below the burners, 
carrying the oil pump and reserve supply of petroleum, 
and in which the aeronaut could take his place. Then, 
at a given signal, the ropes being loosed, the whole soared 
proudly aloft into the air, where it could continue, either 
as a captive or free, for just as long as the supply of oil 

The advantage of such a form of balloon in time of 
war needs no insisting on. The whole apparatus, balloon, 
burner, staging, and all, was not more than could be loaded 
into one wagon ; the cost of an hour's supply of petroleum 
to the burners worked out at under five shillings ; while 
the inflation, which could be made as often as desired, 
was completed in less than half an hour from the begin- 
ning. Naturally the experiments attracted considerable 
attention and much favourable comment in aeronautical, 
as also military circles. Many experts came to Coldash 
to inspect the new design. Maj or Baden Powell, President 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

of the Aeronautical Society, was one of these ; also, Mr. 
Patrick Alexander ; Mr. Chanute, the eminent American 
aerial investigator; representatives of the War Office; 
and, from the German Embassy, a military attache in the 
person of Count von Schulenburg. One and all expressed 
their heartiest approval of an invention which, had but 
circumstances admitted of its completion, had surely a 
great future before it. As it was, the work, stopped in 
the midst by the approach of winter, was postponed to the 
next season, which, when it came, found both Maskelyne 
and Bacon too much engaged in other business to spare the 
necessary time. So but little more was done, except to 
lay plans for a grand revival of the proceedings in the 
spring a spring which Bacon never lived to see. 

My father met again the aeronautical friends just 
mentioned, as well as other leaders with whom he was 
well acquainted, as Sir Hiram Maxim, Mr. Eric Bruce, 
Professor C. V. Boys, and Mr. Cody, at the International 
Kite Competition of the Aeronautical Society, held on 
Worthing Downs this June of 1903 an enjoyable and 
instructive function. 

Out of the voyages of this summer two merit particular 
reference. One was another of the long series of scientific 
ascents, undertaken especially for acoustic observation, 
and again Bacon was to fire bombs from aloft and invite 
reports of the hearing of them by observers on the earth 
the results of similar trials being so curious and un- 
expected as well to demand a repetition. The experi- 
ment was to take place in the quiet of the night, the 
voyagers starting in their balloon from the Crystal Palace 
at ten p.m. ; but at the commencement they met with a 
sad disappointment. It had always been Bacon's special 
desire to make a long journey all night under a full moon 
over sleeping England, travelling northward the whole 


The Balloon in Warfare 

length of the country, with no fear of being carried out 
to sea, even should cloud shut out all view of earth. At 
last it really seemed as if the chance had come, for that 
evening a due south wind was unmistakably blowing, 
and all pointed to a course which would bear them to 
the Midlands or even to York before dawn. All were 
delighted, of course. Nevertheless, either the breeze 
shifted just at the moment of ascent, or an undetected 
middle current seized them, for as they rose from the 
ground the balloon, floating away gently from the grasp 
of its restrainers, suddenly made a sidelong dash for the 
top of a tall poplar narrowly escaped and headed off 
on a course of its own nearly due east, flying fast and 
faster as it rose above the trees. The disappointed 
aeronauts, consulting their maps, realized not only that 
Yorkshire was not their haven that night, but that with 
cruel perversity their craft was choosing, from out all 
points of the compass, the one course most unpopular 
with aerial travellers from the Crystal Palace ; for it 
was that which brings them soonest to the water, Sea 
Reach and Mucking, but thirty miles away, the course 
from which lies straight down the estuary of the 
Thames, with the whole breadth of the German Ocean 

It was very hard luck, but they could but make the best 
of a bad job, and in the hour that followed Bacon fired his 
detonators at six minutes' interval, with results which, 
when the crowded post-bag came in next day, proved 
sufficiently interesting and instructive. Again observers 
who had taken up stations along the entire length of the 
country traversed, as also far on both sides, recorded 
that it was off the track, in regions lying remote from the 
direction of the wind, that the aerial sounds were best 
heard ; while those near at hand heard least, showing the 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

range of audibility scarce exceeded five miles, either up 
or down the wind in the balloon's path. 

More than this, those who heard the clearest at long dis- 
tances across the wind were generally found to be in groups 
i.e. within a mile or two of each other, as though the 
aerial sounds were borne down to earth on certain favoured 
patches. From the Brentwood direction, ten miles 
away at least, came a good report from several observers ; 
from Sevenoaks, fourteen miles south of the balloon's 
track, better still. Outside this limited locality a wide 
district apparently heard no sound, but Edenbridge, nine 
miles beyond, heard excellently ; while from Dormans, 
in Sussex, fully twenty miles away from the nearest 
firing point, came the completest record of all. 

All these reports, however, were put in the shade by a 
most extraordinary communication from a country par- 
sonage in Norfolk. Here three observers sallied forth to 
listen at the appointed hour, one standing within the 
shelter of an empty pit which might serve as sounding- 
board, and all alike recorded the hearing of a faint sound 
" resembling thunder " coming from the right direction, 
and corresponding in time with the moment when the 
last and nearest bomb was fired over Purfleet, in Essex, 
eighty miles away. Was this mere coincidence, or 
another wonderful instance of those phenomenal " far 
shots " every now and again to be met with ? 

The second ascent was a fortnight later, again from the 
Crystal Palace, but under widely different circumstances. 
Yielding to the wishes of many who had found the previous 
hunts exciting and instructive, Bacon had once again 
arranged a military race of cycles versus balloon, but this 
time, to vary the proceedings, and lend a new interest, 
he introduced a novel feature. On the former occasions 
the balloon was presumably escaping with despatches 


The Balloon in Warfare 

from beleaguered Paris, pursued by the Prussians without 
the walls. This order was now reversed, and the aero- 
nauts, starting from neutral ground, and taking every 
advantage of upper currents, were to endeavour to drop 
actually within the besieged city, thus carrying out a 
manoeuvre discussed but never actually accomplished in 
the war of 1871. Moreover, it was announced in the 
papers beforehand, that, in order to render the illusion 
yet more complete, a certain distinguished officer, one 
General Jacqueminot, seeking to return to Paris, would 
ascend in full regimentals in the balloon, and make a 
sensational parachute descent as near his prearranged 
haven of refuge as possible. The general would be the 
bearer of despatches, secretly sewn inside his uniform, 
which it would be the aim of the military cyclists, divided 
into two parties representing friends and foes, to secure 

The matter was well taken up on all hands, and not a 
little discussion was evoked as to the identity of the 
military passenger. His name was obviously French, 
and presumably he was a veteran survivor of the great 
siege. Newspaper men wrote to him for particulars of 
his career, and requests for his photograph. These 
Bacon was delighted enough to supply after the event. 
" Judging from appearance," he wrote, " my friend is 
about seventy years of age, with set features. He is also 
somewhat stiff in the joints, and weighs only seventeen 
pounds in full regimentals." The construction of the 
" General " was indeed a source of much joy to the family 
party then assembled at Coldash, as was also the pre- 
paring of his dispatches, said to be in a species of cipher, 
which read after this fashion : " Watteau. Elle bompe," 
" Votre mre, sait-elle que vous etes sortis ? " " Main- 
tenant nous ne serons pas longtemps," etc. etc. 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

The day of the ascent was fine and bright, with a breeze 
so light that " Paris " had perforce to be declared at a 
very moderate distance. There were a large muster of 
military cyclists, mostly of the 26th Middlesex, whose 
commanding officer had a seat in the balloon car, and, 
the secret having been well preserved, the appearance of 
the " General," as he was supported to the basket, his 
livid face and limp limbs suggesting extreme nervousness, 
was hailed with rapturous delight. Had he been or- 
dinary flesh and blood his situation would indeed have 
been a trying one, for during the voyage, the car being 
full and his person somewhat cumbersome, he was slung 
by the neck outside until, at the close of the journey, 
" Paris " being considered reached, the parachute was 
fastened to his shoulders and he was launched into space. 

Not without some qualms of pity his terrified face 
was so pathetically human, the aeronauts watched his 
downward progress, and were relieved to see the white 
parachute expand and support him gracefully and gently 
earthward. Dropped from about 3000 feet, for full five 
minutes he could be seen falling, his pendent legs just 
visible below the sheet, until, lightly as a feather, he 
alighted on a green grass meadow, and lay prone. His 
fall had been witnessed from afar, and people came rush- 
ing up on all sides, and many were the anxious inquiries, 
" Is the poor gentleman much hurt ? " The cyclists, 
however, were first on his track, and the despatches being 
secured, he was placed across a bicycle and carried in 
triumph back to the Crystal Palace, where they exhibited 
him all the rest of the day. 

The voyage was noteworthy to Bacon in another way, 
because this day there accompanied him in the car for 
the first time the young lady who a few weeks later he 
made his wife. On the 7th of October, at his brother 


The Balloon in Warfare 

MaunselPs church at Swallowfield, near Reading, he 
married Stella, youngest daughter of the late Captain 
T. B. H. Valintine, of Goodwood, niece of his brother's 
wife. There was great dissimilarity of age between the 
two, but so perfect were their mutual affection and accord 
of taste, and so marvellously had Bacon preserved his 
youthfulness of heart and mind, that the thirty years 
which separated them seemed to both a negligible quan- 
tity. Their romantic union was an ideal one, and the 
months which followed so few, alas ! they proved 
were of unalloyed and most intense happiness a gleam 
of brightest sunshine at the end of a life which many 
clouds had darkened. 

After the simple marriage ceremony, from which the 
bride drove herself and her husband away in the little 
Benz motor referred to, a brief honeymoon was spent at 
Cromer. The week before the wedding Bacon entertained 
some hundred of his faithful friends of the Guildhall Club 
to an outing it was the last at his home at Coldash. 
A merry day it proved, for Bacon fairly outdid himself 
in the originality of the entertainment he provided. 
The young men prepared for anything out of the com- 
mon arrived to find that half their party represented 
shipwrecked mariners of the Robinson Crusoe variety. 
Their " desert islands," marked out carefully with 
shells and sawdust on the grass, were already prepared 
for them in the field, and when stranded in groups of six 
on their inhospitable shores, each party found for them- 
selves there the rough material very rough indeed some 
of it proved from which they were expected to build 
a hut, plant a garden, light a fire, and cook a dinner in the 
shortest possible space of time. All entered into the fun 
thoroughly, and there was keen competition between the 
rival islands, and much enthusiasm, which was, however, 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

rather damped when it was discovered that one of the 
rules of the game was that the cooks should eat the meals 
that they had elaborated ! Even this, however, was 
accomplished, and when a chosen bard on each island 
had sung an ode commemorating their achievements, the 
other half of the club, arrayed as savages in feathers and 
war paint, swooped down with cannibalistic yells on the 
seamen, and a most realistic war, waged chiefly with 
syringes and garden squirts, repelled by mad charges 
under open umbrellas, brought proceedings to a close. 
Bacon this day introduced his friends to his future wife, 
and they in their turn presented the pair with a huge 
silver rose-bowl and all heartiest good wishes. 



Page 337 


LATE autumn and winter this year brought back to 
Bacon, as they had for several years past, a return 
of interest in and a renewal of observations concerning one 
of his pet subjects of investigation London fog. Per- 
sonal experience alone would have sufficed to make the 
matter one of much moment to him, for the state of his 
lungs rendered him specially sensitive to the influence of 
fog ; and many choking winter visits to the Metropolis, 
when he could scarce draw breath, and many long, cold 
journeys north, when the dark, reeking pall hung heavy 
over the Black Country, were enough in themselves to 
draw his special attention to our island's annual scourge. 
But more than this was the experience of many of his 
balloon voyages, when, ascending in misty weather, and 
piercing in a few minutes to brightest sunshine aloft, he 
had marvelled at the wondrous shallowness of the cloud 
which was making life wellnigh intolerable below, and 
gazed spellbound at the matchless beauty of the upper 
surface of what we are accustomed to consider the em- 
bodiment of all hideousness. So short a distance, he 
found, separates the Londoner, wallowing and groaning 
in midday night, from purest skies and a scene of loveli- 
ness not to be matched in all the earth. 

Bacon followed up the subject of the Fog Fiend, its 
causes, its possible remedies and mitigations, until he 
Y 337 

The Record of an Aeronaut 

became a recognized expert on the subject. He studied 
its vagaries by day and night from high buildings in the 
city the Ball of St. Paul's, the roof of the St. Pancras 
Hotel, and so forth, as well as from the altitude of his 
balloon. He worked out the past history of London fogs, 
which goes back in unmistakable record hundreds of 
years before the very word " fog " was known. He saw 
that the great cause of offence has always been the 
domestic grate, and only in part the much-abused factory 
chimney. He advocated the scheme for manufacturing 
London's gas-supply at the coal fields of the Midlands, 
and conveying it over the intervening distance no in- 
superable engineering difficulty so that the town might 
be heated and lighted without defiling its skies with coal 
smoke. Specially he insisted that a good wind service 
is as essential to a city as a good water service, and that 
too much cannot be done to ensure strong currents of air 
through the streets and houses by widening thoroughfares, 
clearing open spaces, and wiping away enclosed courts 
and culs-de-sac. 

Most eagerly he followed up the idea, suggested by 
experiments of Sir Oliver Lodge, Sir Douglas Galton, and 
others, that the unstable equilibrium of a fog might be 
upset by sudden artificial atmospheric disturbance pro- 
ducing rain, even as the firing of great guns, in battle or 
at reviews, is said to break the clouds and change the 
weather. He was specially anxious at one time to put 
the project to a practical test - by ascending in a balloon 
from London in a heavy fog, and firing numbers of his 
powerful cotton-powder detonators aloft. Many times 
he laid careful plans for so doing, and made all arrange- 
ments ; holding himself in readiness at his home to repair 
at once to London and begin the work as soon as a 
sufficiently determined fog should warrant proceedings. 




Page 339 

The Last 

Is it necessary to say, in this contrary world, that at 
those times when all was prepared London rejoiced in 
unseasonably clear skies, and, after the fashion of the 
watched kettle, a fog steadily refused to make its appear- 
ance ? 

Later experience convinced Bacon, or nearly convinced 
him, of the hopelessness of the task. Ascents in fog time 
showed him that the balloon is to the fog much in the 
same proportion as the proverbial broom to the Atlantic. 
There remain, however, many most interesting and valu- 
able observations concerning the origin and nature of fog, 
its acoustical properties, and so forth, for which a balloon 
gives special facilities. It was mainly in the hope of 
encountering a good " London Particular " that Bacon 
gratefully accepted the offer extended him of making use 
of certain balloon ascents, to be carried out over London 
for advertising purposes, during the last days of 1903 and 
the first of the following year. 

I cannot find out from my father's notes on these 
voyages that he obtained the results he desired. I believe 
the hoped-for fog once more evaded him, but at least he 
added to his collection of beautiful aerial photographs, 
as also to his store of amusing balloon experiences. 
Twice over he demonstrated the facility with which the 
traveller by sky may make his way, without let or hind- 
rance, into places which, under ordinary circumstances, 
he might find the greatest difficulty in entering. On the 
first occasion the balloon descended, all unwittingly, in 
the middle of the great gunpowder factory at Waltham 
Abbey. All Board of Trade regulations disregarding, 
with matches in their pockets and all manner of forbidden 
details, they plumped on the grass in the sacred en- 
closure, and the surprised employes, who could by no 
means say them nay, hailed their unauthorized appear- 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

ance with great amusement. The following day they 
took a liberty of another kind. 

Flying westward from London on an unfamiliar track, 
their voyage ended in the grounds of a private house of 
more than ordinary pretensions. They had no intention, 
of course, of intruding on such a spot, but when a balloon 
flies close to the ground, in a wind, at the close of its 
voyage, it is not always possible to decide, within a field 
or two, exactly where it shall fall. The park where their 
craft alighted was obviously that of no ordinary person, 
nor were the smart servants who came rushing up. Pre- 
sently a policeman appeared on the scene, bristling with 
importance. "Are you aware that you are trespassing ? " 
"Perfectly," said Bacon, "but, as it happens, I can't 
help it." 

" Do you know where you are ? Do you know what 
house this is ? " 

" I haven't the slightest idea." 

" Cumberland Lodge, the residence of His Royal 
Highness Prince Christian ! " said Robert, expecting the 
announcement to have terrific effect. But Bacon was 
not at all abashed. Princess Christian, whom he had 
had the honour of meeting, had expressed much interest 
in his aeronautical experiences, and had graciously ac- 
cepted one of his books and some of his balloon photo- 
graphs. She herself was at that time from home, but 
immediately Prince Christian heard of his unceremonious 
visitors he sent to invite Bacon into the house, where he 
talked with him some time, and offered him all hospitality 
and assistance. 

On the last ascent of this series Bacon's young wife 
already an enthusiastic aeronaut accompanied him on 
what proved a somewhat interesting flight, for, rising 
from the East End, they crossed the whole length of 


The Last 

London at a height so low that at one moment they 
apparently only just escaped collision with the dome of St. 
Paul's, which suddenly loomed up, a huge dark monster, 
before them ; and later on they held animated conversa- 
tion with an indignant policeman in Hyde Park. The 
town being traversed, they shot above the mist into 
magnificent cloud scenery, and eventually descended 
in Buckinghamshire. 

During the following spring Bacon's mind was full of 
a scheme daring and original but which, had he lived, 
it is certain he would have tried to put into execution. 
This was nothing more or less than the exploration by 
balloon of the unknown interior of Arabia. My father 
was convinced that, rightly employed, a balloon could 
be made to add vastly to our knowledge concerning in- 
accessible countries, and that, in this direction, not suf- 
ficient advantage had been taken of its unique assistance. 
True there had been Andree's disastrous dash to the Pole, 
but in his case the venture seemed doomed to failure from 
the outset, and the circumstances such as afforded no 
reasonably fair trial. All things wind, climate, country 
were against him, and yet even then his last recovered 
message, sent by carrier pigeon, showed that at the end 
of forty-eight hours, the longest aerial voyage ever made, 
the balloon was still going strong, and the party in good 
hope of success. 

Enough had not been made, Bacon claimed, of^the 
constant current of air, blowing at all times from west to 
east in the upper atmosphere, to which aeronauts and 
meteorologists alike unite in testifying. Wise, the great 
American balloonist, sixty years ago, was so convinced 
of the existence of this drift, which he estimated at from 
twenty to forty or even sixty miles an hour, that he 
offered to trust himself to it, in a suitable balloon, for a 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

voyage across the Atlantic. Green, in England, was of 
similar opinion. Hundreds of records made by travellers 
and scientific men point to the same thing, with, more- 
over, the additional fact that the nearer the Equator is 
approached the more regular do the winds become, even 
such as blow at low levels ; while with respect to the sea- 
board of Asia due to the great rarefaction of the atmo- 
sphere over the centre of the Continent powerful and 
long-lasting south-westerly gales, so unvarying as to be 
foretold almost to the inside of a week, are a heritage of 
the country. 

These constant winds, it was contended by Bacon, 
offer special facilities for balloon exploration of lands lying 
in tropical and sub-tropical regions, such as the Sahara, 
Central Asia, and Australia ; but, above all, of that 
mysterious and fascinating terra incognita, not to be 
reached apparently by any other means, the centre of 
Arabia. In this " Happy Arabia " of the ancient geo- 
graphers we have an unknown land as difficult of access 
as the Poles, jealously guarded by fanatical Bedouins, 
circled about by superstitious fears and tales of terror, 
containing the sand-buried ruins of ancient civilization 
lost these thousands of years, and described by Sir Henry 
Rawlinson as the most romantic country in the world. 
It is a country of saline oases, wild palm groves, of fer- 
tile spots where are running streams and many springs, 
of deserts vast and frightful, yet so far from unproduc- 
tive that their mere red sand after rain becomes covered, 
so says Mr. Wilfrid S. Blunt, with grass and flowers. 
Here lies apparently no waste corner of the earth, but a 
land which under European enterprise might be made 
to yield the richest harvest, but which, under present 
conditions, it is absolutely impossible for any European 
even to attempt to enter. 


The Last 

But here, to Bacon's mind, lay an unrivalled oppor- 
tunity for the enterprising aeronaut. His carefully 
thought out project was to inflate an exploring balloon 
on the shores of the Red Sja. This would have to be 
done on the western side, since on the east lies the sacred 
province of the Medjar, where even the unrolling of a 
map is resented by the jealous natives. The passage 
of the narrow sea, however, would add but a few miles 
to the aerial journey, which might be commenced even 
at Aden, or on one of the many islands at the southern 
end. Study of the map shows that, with the prevailing 
winds, by the route from Aden the unknown centre 
could be traversed and the Persian Gulf reached by 
balloon in nine hundred miles. From a point a little 
below Mecca a W.S.W. wind would carry an aeronaut 
across the country in seven hundred miles. A due west 
wind would add another hundred miles in the latter case. 
With a north or south wind an important section of 
Arabia could be passed over in five hundred miles, while 
from Mascat a yet shorter, but useful, voyage might be 
carried out. 

To descend in a balloon on Arabian soil would certainly 
be inadvisable, but once across to the Persian Gulf rescue 
by boat should not be difficult, provided due provision 
had been made. Fleets of pilot balloons previously 
despatched could indicate the route with great exactness, 
and wireless telegraphy apparatus would be carried aloft 
by which the aeronauts would keep in constant touch 
with their friends along the coast. Concerning the power 
of the balloon, if properly constructed, to keep afloat in 
air for the long period needed, Bacon had no doubts ; 
pointing out that the constant sunshine to be absolutely 
relied upon in this part of the world would replace the 
vagaries of temperature which waste so much gas in 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

ordinary voyages, while the withdrawal of the sun's rays 
at night would simply entail a steady subsidence of the 
balloon to lower altitudes, where the heat radiating from 
the earth would then maintain it, without waste of ballast, 
at a safe, if varying, level. 

Bacon's project, which he carefully unfolded this year 
in the pages of the " Nineteenth Century " and elsewhere, 
drew much comment at the time, and met with the sup- 
port of experts familiar with the scene of the proposed 
exploration, who pronounced his plans as feasible, and 
assisted him with valuable information and advice. All 
through his last months Bacon's thoughts and speech 
were ever running on this theme, which daily grew more 
attractive to him. Without doubt, had time and oppor- 
tunity been spared him, he would before long have en- 
deavoured personally to make the attempt. 

There was but one balloon ascent this summer of 1904, 
a night voyage from Newbury at the close of a hot 
August day. The ascent formed part of a well thought 
out and elaborate scheme, the most ambitious of Bacon's 
scientific series, as it was also his last, for the testing of 
sound-signals, and in this case of the power of warning 
signal-lights. By the ready co-operation of many friends, 
private and official, Bacon had arranged for a line of 
helpers stretching right across the south of England, 
from Bristol to Hampstead Heath. These assistants 
were gathered in thirteen camps at an average distance 
of about ten miles apart, all on high ground, and follow- 
ing as nearly as possible the course of old-time beacons. 
Dundry Down, seven hundred feet above Bristol, was the 
first of these stations ; Lansdown, near Kelston, lay be- 
tween that and Combe Down, Bath. The monument 
at Cherhill, near Calne, came next ; while a science master 
from Marlborough College, and an able staff of boys, 


The Last 

occupied the neighbouring Martinsell Hill. Inkpen Beacon 
and Greenham Common, next in order, were manned by 
Newbury friends ; and the masters and boys at Clays- 
more School, above Pangbourne, kept watch on their 
lofty tower. Next came high ground at Sonning ; then, 
by special permission, a watchman on the Round Tower 
of Windsor Castle ; next, high ground at Uxbridge ; then 
Harrow-on-the-Hill ; while Hampstead Heath completed 
the series. To each of these stations, save the last, 
were issued two kinds of signal rockets, supplied by 
Messrs. Brock ; one a sound-signal capable of being 
heard over a distance of twenty miles, the other a " para- 
chute " rocket bearing a very brilliant light. Thus 
each beacon had two means of passing its message on to 
its neighbour across the country when, at ten o'clock 
precisely on the appointed night, Bristol started the 
alarm. At the same time, from Newbury, central station 
of the line, Bacon's balloon climbed into the air, firing 
detonating signals of its own at carefully fixed intervals, 
the while listening to the signals on earth. Each signal 
station had an elaborate list of questions concerning the 
seeing and hearing of lights and bombs to fill in, while 
independent observers all over the south of England 
were invited to be on the watch for lights and sounds and 
to record their observations. 

The night proved admirable for the experiment ; all 
went without a hitch, and the beacons bore their message 
so satisfactorily that Bacon was convinced that it would 
be readily possible by their means to convey a warning 
signal from Bristol to London in five minutes, and not 
only this, but through all the country intervening, a 
result which would surpass any effort of modern tele- 
graphy, with or without wires. Anomalies of sight and 
hearing proved as remarkable and instructive as ever, 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

bearing out the curious results of previous similar ex- 
periments. In the balloon, Bacon was accompanied 
by his wife and daughter, with Mr. Percival Spencer in 
charge, and, their signalling and observing work finished, 
they floated dreamily all through the warm summer 
night over fields and woods, sleeping villages, and shut- 
tered houses, until the grey dawn broke slowly over the 
peaceful scene, the sun lifted from the mists of the morn- 
ing, and the scent of dew rose off the deserted Berkshire 
downland. With daylight came a freshening of the 
breeze, and the balloon sped faster, and then, nearing 
the ground, her trail narrowly escaped impact with an 
early goods train, snaking along the G.W.R., whose 
driver whistled shrilly in astonished greeting. Eventu- 
ally she descended in a grass field at Kidlington, five 
miles beyond Oxford. It was Sunday, and not a soul had 
yet risen in the village, so the voyagers, sheltered in their 
car, turned sideways on the ground, had an hour's sleep 
before finding their way to a neighbouring farm-house 
in search of help and much needed food. The farmer and 
his wife, though astonished, were hospitality personified, 
and while they completed their toilet for they had 
yet scarcely risen the balloonists sat on a hen-coop in the 
farmyard, sipping new milk until a substantial breakfast, 
to which they did amplest justice, was prepared for them. 

This autumn the British Association, under the presi- 
dency of Mr. Balfour, met at Cambridge. Bacon was 
to read a paper on " Upper Air Currents and their 
Relation to the Far Travel of Sound." In this he sum- 
marized some of the results of his more recent balloon 
voyages, and gave instances of the extreme complexity 
of higher drifts causing the strange acoustic vagaries 
he had so often experienced. 

It is the pleasant custom at the British Association 



See pa^e 329 


Page 346 

The Last 

Meetings for the residents of the neighbourhood to offer 
hospitality to the most distinguished of the members, 
and Bacon and his wife were delighted to find themselves 
the favoured guests of Canon and Mrs. Pemberton, of 
Trumpington Hall, his host an old acquaintance of thirty 
years before. All circumstances combined to make this 
Bacon's last visit to his beloved University a specially 
delightful one. It was keenest pleasure to him to show 
his happy, bright, young bride the scenes of his early 
joys and sorrows, to introduce her proudly in turn to 
his old friends. Intellectual and social treats alternated 
all through the days. The meeting was an unusually 
brilliant one, and the great minds of all the world had 
congregated together. His own fame had gone abroad, 
and scientific friends and acquaintances were flattering 
and kind. Every hour was enjoyable, and the whole 
week one of the happiest of his life. 

With the coming of autumn, the busy lecture season 
began afresh. This winter Bacon had more engagements 
than ever of the sort that he specially preferred. Of all 
his audiences of every kind he loved schoolboys best 
of all, and in addressing them he was ever in his happiest, 
brightest vein. Masters testified enthusiastically to his 
success. With the boys themselves he was immensely 
popular, for not only was his adventurous subject such 
as appealed particularly to their imaginations, but some 
subtle sympathy seemed to exist between their young 
natures and a man who, all through his life, had kept 
his heart as young and fresh as theirs. Lectures at the 
great public schools were his especial delight, and he 
embarked on this season's programme with greater 
pleasure and zest than ever. 

All through my father's chequered life his indomitable 
pluck and energy had risen superior to his bodily powers, 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

and now, at the close, it was still this courageous spirit, 
this unconquered will, this utter absence of thought of 
self, which blinded others, even those nearest and 
dearest to him, to the change which was too surely taking 
place in him. Not until his last brief illness was the truth 
revealed, and then, indeed, doctors, nurses, and friends 
alike stood amazed at the marvellous power of the daunt- 
less mind over the frail body. The dread disease of the 
lungs, for thirty years kept in abeyance and forgotten, 
had, with declining years, reasserted itself, and all un- 
suspected by others, and, it would seem, even by himself, 
had been following its fell course for months, perhaps 
for years past. Yet never for a moment in all this period 
of decreasing power had Bacon relaxed his wonderful 
energy, nor had his unfailing spirits flagged ; and this it 
was which, at the time, hid those small tokens of failing 
strength which, looking backwards when all was over, 
became clear enough. How long and splendid had been 
the fight may never be known, but now at length the 
end was at hand. 

On the 1 6th of November was born a daughter of his 
happy second marriage Bacon's fourth child. The date 
of her birth, as it happened, was the anniversary of that 
never-to-be-forgotten meteor hunt above the clouds of 
five years before ; and largely on this account, as also 
after parent and grandparent, the name of Stella Mary 
was bestowed upon her. Mother and child did well, and 
Bacon continued his busy life of writing, travelling, and 
lecturing as before. His last lecture was on the I4th of 
December, at the famous Birkbeck Institute in London. 
That night the delighted audience could trace no sign of 
weakness in the beautiful voice, nor of diminishing power 
in the spirit and enthusiasm with which he spoke, racily 
describing his aerial adventures, and, as ever, bearing 


The Last 

all away with him in his infectious ardour for the work 
he had made his own. This fact is testified to in the 
following letter from an unknown correspondent, received 
a couple of days later, and which, under the peculiar and 
pathetic circumstances, may here be quoted : 


" December i$th, 1904. 
" SIR, 

" Votes of thanks are not the order of the day at the 
Birkbeck College, so I can only take this means of saying 
how greatly I appreciated your lecture yesterday even- 
ing. You contrived to give in a popular way a great deal 
of information, your descriptions of certain voyages were 
most realistic, and your lantern slides were delightful, 
especially those of the clouds from above. 

" I am not looking for a reply, and I am therefore 
giving no address. Again thanking you for your lecture, 
and hoping that you may be able to do the things you 
have projected in the not far distant future, 
" I am, yours sincerely 


The morning after this lecture, while still in town, 
the news reached my father of the terribly sudden 
death, from heart seizure, of his third brother, the Rev. 
H. V. Bacon, then Rector of East Tisted, Hants. The 
tidings of this wholly unexpected loss proved a very 
severe shock, further lowering already exhausted vitality. 
The December weather at the time was foggy and treach- 
erous. Arrived at home that night he complained of 
chill, and retired to bed, from which he never rose again. 
For nine days only he lay in patient suffering. Almost 
from the first, when medical examination revealed the 


The Record of an Aeronaut 

extent of his malady, it was realized that there was little 
hope ; but he himself, ever bright and cheerful, with no 
word of complaint, thinking only of those around him, 
fought out his brave battle for life, for the sake of those 
he was leaving, to the bitter finish, and on Christmas 
night, the struggle over, breathed his last, brave and 
patient to the end. 

Then, from high and low, rich and poor, far and wide, 
poured in the testimony of those who loved and revered 
him : scientists who deplored his loss to knowledge, 
famous men who eulogized his work and aims, editors 
and publishers who lamented the close of his bright 
literary career, people who had never known him, but to 
whom, by his writings and doings, he was familiar and 
beloved ; others who, having merely heard him speak 
or lecture, had come under the spell of his magnetic 
personality, humble friends whom he had loved as dearly 
as those of his own station, friends to whom he had 
stretched out a helping hand in need, friends to whom he 
had opened his brotherly sympathy in time of sorrow, 
friends to whom he had spoken a word of advice in 
season ; lighthouse friends on the Maplin, friends of his 
aerial voyages, of his eclipse expeditions, of his lecture 
experiences : all alike uniting in their sorrow, and in their 
testimony of truest affection, admiration, and regard. 

Four days later his body was laid to rest beside the 
beautiful little church at Swallowfield, which but fifteen 
months before had been the scene of his marriage. Six 
chosen friends carried him, by his own desire, once ex- 
pressed, to the grave two well-loved members of his 
Guildhall Club (one the Bee Expert of bygone days), one 
of the old Coldash Ringing Team, his favourite Coast- 
guard, the aeronaut who had shared with him his greatest 
peril, and his own faithful servant. Thus were drawn 

The Last 

together at the last, as it were, the threads of a lifetime. 
The brave eldest brother, Maunsell, who but ten days 
before had buried one younger brother, now read the 
burial service over another, while around the grave stood 
Bacon's nearest and dearest, his best-loved friends, and 
those who loved him longest and most truly. 

Bacon was but in his fifty-ninth year, in the midst of 
his new-found happiness, in the height of his labour aud 
ambition. He might have been spared for many years 
more of valuable work in the field of scientific research 
and of domestic joy at home. And yet it cannot be 
doubted that he died as he would have wished in 
harness, with his mental strength yet undiminished, his 
powers of usefulness yet unimpaired, his heart yet fresh 
and young. In the recollection of the outside world his 
memory will stand as the man of science, the original 
thinker, the fearless aeronaut ; in the minds of those who 
met him personally, for how much more ! To those who 
knew and loved him best, it will ever seem that some- 
thing of the vastness, the purity, the serenity of the 
realms he so delighted in, had entered into his own soul ; 
and that in the wideness of his outlook, the boundlessness 
of his sympathies, the utter absence of all smallness of 
thought, word, or deed, he came in tune with those mighty, 
all beneficent forces whose nature he sought to trace. 

Only a few weeks before his death he had been asked 
to write as a message to some of his schoolboy friends 
his favourite text or motto. He chose a text, the same 
which now is on the plain granite cross marking his last 
resting-place : 




Academicians, anecdotes of, 18 
Acoustic experiments, 215, 217. 

220, 231, 234, 242, 244, 250, 274, 

290, 292, 297, 331, 344 
Adams, Professor, in 
Aeronautical Society, 287, 330 
Airy, Sir G. B., 103 
Aldersgate Station, 288 
Alexander, P. Y., 282, 330 
America, visit to, 270 
Andree, 72, 341 
Animatograph for Eclipse work, 

204, 207, 210, 212, 214, 271, 277 
Arabia, exploring by balloon, 341, 

342, 343 

Ashdown Coursing, 53 
Astronomical Association, British, 

195, 202, 270 
Astronomical Society, Royal, 167, 

Astronomical work, 167, 199, 204, 

207, 210, 254, 276 
Atlantic, crossing by balloon, 342 

Bacon, origin of name, 1 1 
Bacon, Arthur, 182, 183 

Captain, R.N., 301 

Francis, 25, 80, 124 

Francis, Lord Verulam, 12 

Harry V., 25, 78, 349 

John, R.A., 14, 18, 20, 38 

John, younger, sculptor, 20 

Bacon, John, Rev., 21, 23, 38, 72, 
75, 84, 104, 109 

Judge, 301 

Mary, 22, 24 

Maunsell, J., 25, 78, 105, 117, 
123, 129, 335, 35i 

Thomas, 13 

Thomas, Rev., 21 

Bacon, John Mackenzie, parents, 
22 ; birth, 25 ; education, 78, 
80, 85, 89, 91 ; at Cambridge, 
91, 96, 103, 104 ; takes degree, 
105 ; ordained, 108 ; marries, 
109; children born, 118, 121, 
131, 348 ; illness, 118 ; goes to 
Coldash, 124 ; first balloon 
ascent, 1 50 ; gives up clerical 
work, 173 ; loses wife, 189 ; 
goes to Norway, 196 ; to 
India, 202 ; commences scienti- 
fic ballooning, 215 (see balloon 
ascents, acoustic experiments, 
etc.) ; visits Maplin, 235 ; begins 
lecturing, 240 ; literary work, 
109, 240, 284, 326 ; visits 
America, 270 ; experiments 
with hot-air balloon, 301, 327 ; 
marries again, 335 ; illness, 
348 ; death, 350 

Baden Powell, Major, 329 

Balfour, Right Hon. A. J., 109, 
no, 113, 188, 325, 346 

Balfour, Professor F. M., 109, 

Ball, Sir Robert S., 68, 196, 198, 
219, 241 



Balloon ascents, Bacon's, 150, 
194, 215, 221, 223, 227, 229, 
231, 242, 245, 251, 254, 278, 281, 
282, 293, 294, 295, 302, 306, 317, 
330, 332, 339, 344 

Balloon ascent at Cambridge, 

Balloon, exploration by, 341 

hot-air, military, 301, 326 

Nassau, 72 

in thunderstorm, 279 

versus cycle,. 302, 306, 332 

in warfare, 301, 306, 326 
Banks, Thomas, 19 

Barnard, Professor, 276, 277, 


Barrow, opening of the, 1 74 
Barry, James, 19 
Beacon lights, 344, 345 
Bee culture, 141 
Belgium, visit to, 193 
Bell ringing, 83, 89, 95, 96, 138, 


Benares, 205 
Beresford Hope, 109, 118 
Beynon, T. C., 10 
Birkbeck Institute, 348 
Blanchard, 73 
Blunt, Wilfrid S., 342 
Bombarding London, 242, 243, 

293, 33i 

Books, Bacon's, 109, 284, 326 
Box, 77 

Boys, Professor C. V., 330 
British Association, Bradford, 281 

Bristol, 227, 229 

Cambridge, 346 

Dover, 253 

Brown, Miss E., 196 
Browne, Harold, Bishop, 108 
Browne, Captain, 237 
Bruce, Eric S., 330 
Bucknell, Leslie, 307 
Butler, Frank, 307 
Buxar, 203, 205, 206 

" By Land and Sky," 284 

Caffyn, 77 

Cambridge, 91, no, 187, 346 

Canton, W., 284 

Cave at Coldash, 178, 181 

Cayley, Professor, in 

Cecil, Lords Arthur and Lionel, 


Chanute, O., 330 
Christian, Prince and Princess, 


Christie, Sir W. H. M., no 
Church, Dean, 182 
Clarke, 77 

Claybury Asylum, 293 
Claysmore School, 345 
Clerical Club, 169, 170 
Clerical experiences, 31, 115, 116 
Clerical work, 108, 114, 128, 134, 

170, 173 

Clifford, W. K., in, 167 
Clouds, above the, 246, 259, 296, 


Club, Coldash, 147 
Club, Newbury Guildhall, 190, 

210, 214, 215, 256, 258, 291, 328, 

335. 350 
Cody, 330 
Coldash, 124, 126, 136, 174, 328, 


Common, Dr., 196 
Compo, Dr., 30 
Cosway, Richard, 18 
Cottage shows, 128, 136, 174 
Coxwell, Henry, 151, 218 
Craig, Rev., 100 
Cricket at Hungerford, 76 
Cricket from aloft, 159 
Crimean War, 57, 62, 66 
Crommelin, A. C. D., 196 
Crotch, G. R., 112 
Curse of Conventionalism," 170 




D'Aguilar, Baron, 22 
Dale, Captain, 151, 165, 194 
Darwin, Professor G. H., no 
Descents, rough, 163, 222, 226, 

267, 284 
Disraeli, 22 
Dixon, G., 10 
Dogger Bank, 324 
" Dominion of the Air," 326 
Dotheboys Hall, 87 
Douglas, Lord Francis, 8 1, 91, 295 
Douglas, Lieut. Sholto, 310 
Douglas, Isle of Man, 312 
Downing, Dr. A. M. W., 68, 196 
Dundas, Admiral, 57 
Dust in the atmosphere, 287 

Earth currents, experiments, 180, 


Echo, " lagging " of the, 244 
Echo at Woodstock, 250 
Eclipse, American, 270 

Indian, 203 

Norwegian, 195 
Education of children, 149 
Ellacombe, Rev. H. T., 83, 84, 

89, 96 

Ewing, Colonel, of Stroquhon, 323 
Eyre, Henry, 154, 159 


Parish, Professor, 115, 220 
Fawcett, Professor H., in 
Field, Rev., 116 
Fire at Wymondham, 101 
Firework making, 144 
Flaxman, 19 
Fog, 236, 337 
Footprints, mysterious, 60 
Forster, E. J., 10, 190,197,211,272 
Frederick >n, Lord Bishop of, 21 
Fremantle, Admiral, 278, 281, 285, 

Fuseli, 19 

Galton, Sir Douglas, 338 

Gay Lussac, 218 

George the Third, King, 15, 16, 17, 


Ghost stories, 31, 52, 97 
Glaisher, James, 218 
" Globe " newspaper, 269, 288 
Grant Allen, 241 
Green, Charles, 72, 218, 252, 342 
Gregory, Dean, 234 
Gunpowder factory, descent in, 



Hale, Professor, 276 

Harston, 108 

Hastings, descent at, 225 

Headlam, Rev. A., 8$, 87, 89 

Herschel, Sir John, 234 

Hollond, Robert, 72 

Hot-air military balloon, 301, 326 

Huggins, Sir William, 219, 324 

Hughes, Tom, 48 

Huxley, Professor, 113, 166 

Illness aloft, 247 
India, visit to, 203 
Irish Sea, crossing, 308 

Jackson, George, 96 

" Jacqueminot, General," 333 

Jubilee, Diamond, 203 


Kaufmann, Angelica, 19 
Keble, 21 
Kelvin, Lord, 219 
Kingsley, Charles, 38, 54, in, 128 
Kingsley, Maurice, 39, 110 
Kirkpatrick, A. F., 1 10 
Kite competition at Worthing, 



Kite flying, 79, 80, 287 
Knight, Stephen, 142, 350 

Lachlan, Dr, R. 10, 221, 224 
Lambourn Woodlands, 23, 27, 38, 

57, 74 

Langley, Professor, 276 
Lawrence, Sir Thomas, 19 
Leatherhead, accident at, 304 
Lecturing, 173, 240, 270, 286, 326, 

347, 348 
Leonid meteors, balloon voyage, 


" Levitation," 71 
Lightfoot, Bishop, 94, 1 1 1 
Littlecote Hall, 69 
Lodge, Sir Oliver, 338 
London, crossing by balloon, 159, 

221, 293, 295, 340 
London by night, 183, 184, 294, 

Lousada, Mary, 22 


Mackenzie, Sir James, 25 
Maidstone, descent at, 232 
Man, Isle of, 312, 314, 318 
Maplin Lighthouse, 235, 238 
Martin, Sir George, 53 
Maskelyne, A., 272 
Maskelyne, J. N., 192, 203, 219, 

251, 301, 326 
Maskelyne, Nevil, 203, 204, 212, 

219, 234, 251, 271, 272, 277, 281, 


Maunder, E. W., 196, 203 
Maunder, Mrs. 196 
Maxim, Sir Hiram, 330 
Medley, Bishop, 21 
Meyrick, Rev. E., 55, 78 
Military balloons, 301, 306, 326 
Military balloon race, 302, 306, 


Milman, Bishop, 46 

Monck Mason, 72 

Morley, Arnold, no 

Morley, John, 81 

" Morning Post," 312, 324 

Motoring, 250, 335 

Myers, Rev. C. J., 103, 104, 109 

Myers, Fred, 103,118 

Myers, Gertrude, 104 

Mynn, Alfred, 76 


Nassau, balloon voyage, 72 

Neath, descent at, 268 

Nelson, Hon. and Rev. J. H, 134, 

145, 190 

Nelson, J. E., 190 
Newbury, 124, 173, 190, 215, 251, 

256, 278, 344 
New York, 273 
Niagara, 278 
Night balloon ascents, 231, 257, 

294, 330, 344 
Nollekens, 19 
Norfolk Broads, experiments on, 


North Stoke, 1 24 
Norway Eclipse, 195 

Oundle, descent at, 299 
Ouseley, Sir Frederick, 78 
Owen, Professor, 60 

Paget, Sir George, 119 
Palmer, Professor E. H., 1 14 
Paraboloid " ear," 220, 291 
Parabolic sounding-board, 115, 


Pemberton, Canon, 347 
Ploughing match, 141 




Popham, F. L., 71 

Preaching, 135, 173 

Prince of Wales, 324 

Printing, 137 

Pritchett, Rev. W. H., 80, 82, 295 

Proctor, R. A., 121, 241 

Queen Victoria's funeral, 289 


Race, balloon v. cycle, 302, 306, 


Ramsay, Professor, 219, 229 
Rawlinson, Sir H., 342 
Rayleigh, Lord, 219 
"Renard," H.M.S., 310, 312, 316, 

3i8, 321 

Reynolds, Sir Joshua, 14, 1 8 
Ripping valve, 255 
Ritchey, Professor, 276 
Robin Hood, 176 
Rolls, Hon. C. S., 307 
Royal Society, 324 
Russell, R.A., 19 
Russell, Sir W. H., 62 

Sadler, 73, 309 

St. Helier, Lord, 192 

St. Helier, Lady, 22, 192 

St. Paul's Cathedral, experiments 

in, 181, 234, 300, 338 
Schulenburg, Count von, 330 
Scientific balloon ascents, 215, 

2l8, 221, 223, 227, 229, 231, 242, 
245, 251, 254, 278, 28l, 282, 293, 

294. 307, 33, 344 
Scilly Isles, 241, 287 
Sea-bottom, visibility of, 307, 320 
Sea Reaeh, descent at, 331 
Sedgwick, Adam, no 

Shaw, 134, 135, 170, 215 
Simpson, Thomas, 243 
Snowstorm, great, 57, 131 
Society of Arts, 14, 241, 287 
Sound experiments, see Acoustic 
Sounds, hearing of distant, 290, 

297, 33i 
Spencer, Percival, 195, 221, 225, 

245, 297, 305, 310, 346 
Spencer, Stanley, 221, 256, 350 
Stanford, Professor C. V., no 
Steering trials, 319 
Stokes, Professor G. G., ill 
Stonehenge, 187 
Storm, balloon in, 280, 282 
Swallowfield, 335, 350 
Swinbourne, 232 

Tees, river, 86 
Tennyson, Hallam, in 
Tent-making, 137 
Terry, Stephen H., 10 
Thatcham Church, 216, 231 
Thomson, Professor J. J., 219 
Thunderstorm at Woodlands, 76 
Thunderstorm, balloon in, 280 
" Times " newspaper, 254, 277 
Trinity College, Cambridge, 89, 

92,97, 187,271 
Trinity House, 215, 217, 235 
Turner, Professor H. H., 219 
Tyndall, Professor, 217, 237 

Vadso, 198 

Valintine, Captain T. B. H., 335 

Valintine, Stella, 335 


Wadesborough, 273, 274 
Washington, 274 



Water, travel of sound through, 


Webb, Thomas, 10 
Welsh, 218 
West, Benjamin, 19 
Westbury, Lord, 84 
Westcott, Bishop, in 
Whewell, William, 92 
Whispering gallery, St. Paul's, 234 
Whitefield, 20 
White Horse, scouring of the, 48, 


Whorlton-on-Tees, 85 
Wilberforce, Bishop, 41, 47 
Wild Dayrell, 70 

Winters, hard, 57, 59, 131 
Wireless telegraphy from balloon, 

251, 281 
Wise, 252, 341 
Wood, Sir H. T., 293 
Woodstock, echo at, 250 
" World " newspaper, 230 
Wyllie, C. W., 294 
Wymondham, 84, 100, 108 

Yates, Colonel H. T. S., 81, 295 
Yerkes Observatory, 276, 277 
Young, Professor, 276 


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